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Train: A Novel Hardcover

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday (October 7, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385505914
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385505918
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #625,939 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

In the 1953 of Pete Dexter's Train, Miller Packard is a sergeant in the San Diego police department who has little time for hypocrisy or racism. He lives life as a dare, fearless and bemused, his wife observing that he "was drawn to movement and friction, to chance; he had to have something in play." He is also a golfer, though not a great one. Over a game with a fat cheater named Pinky, Packard's world collides with the troubled life of Lionel "Train" Walk, a young African-American caddy at Brookline Country Club. Train is a virtuoso golfer but is doomed to tote old men's clubs in a sport that can't find a place for a young black athlete. Train also holds a secret, a murder that has never been reported but haunts his every step. In the volatile world of 1950s racial politics, bonds of friendship that cross the color line are doomed, and Packard and Train cruise towards inevitable conflagration.

Dexter explores racism with a cold eye in Train--rarely politically correct and always unafraid to find pettiness in the lives of liberal whites, beatniks, philanthropists, and powerful African-Americans. Outside of the purity of Train's golf swing, Dexter finds little to celebrate in the troubled times, and every page offers the possibility of new catastrophe. Occasionally, with this abundance of disaster, Dexter seems to lose track, and a few of his subplots (like the story of a hideously burned reporter who tries to uncover the truth behind the killings on a sailboat) never quite get resolved. Yet, Train is not a bleak novel, and Packard's detachment lends the book an air of dark comedy. When Dexter writes, "Packard was amused with the world at large" he could just as well be writing about himself: curious, entertained, fascinated, but never unsettled by the grotesquery of human existence. --Patrick O'Kellley

From Publishers Weekly

National Book Award winner Dexter's new book is about pain: the men and women who deliver the emotional and physical blows and the limits of those who bend and break beneath them. This is a theme that runs like a dark thread through Dexter's work, from his prize-winning Paris Trout to The Paperboy. In his latest, no one escapes unscathed, and that includes the reader. It's 1953, and Lionel Walk, a black 18-year-old caddy known as Train, works at an exclusive Los Angeles golf course. The members there are cruel and bigoted, the other caddies violent and criminal. Train is badly treated by everyone except enigmatic golfer Miller Packard, who plays a decent game and recognizes that Train has a special talent for the sport. Packard is a police sergeant who comes to the rescue of beautiful Norah Rose when she is viciously attacked and her husband is slaughtered in an attempted boat hijacking. Packard and Norah fall in love, and he moves into her Beverly Hills home. Meanwhile, Train loses his job and eventually finds work as a groundskeeper at the rundown Paradise Developments golf course. He gets the course back into shape, but this hopeful interlude cannot last. A botched tree-removal project ends in tragic farce, and Train is set adrift again. Packard-a rescuer once more-finds Train, turns him into a golf shark and wins thousands on the boy's exceptional talent. In clear, pitch-perfect prose, Dexter moves the relentless story forward, exposing the ironies and dark undercurrents of charitable actions. The calamitous conclusion looms over the novel from the start, and it comes just as the reader knows it must.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

Maybe this is Dexter's tip of the hat to the "noble savage" theory, but who knows?
Kidd Horn
Importantly, this is a raw and uncompromising tale, quite noirish in its feel The story is well told with vividly portrayed characters.
Neal C. Reynolds
As an amateur novelist, I wonder at his ability to develop interesting characters and, of course, to keep the story moving.
Henry A. Hollensbe

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on October 7, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Pete Dexter's noir fiction brings California in the 1950s to dark and sinister life, as he presents two grim, but ironically humorous plots. Miller Packard, a police sergeant with an eye for easy cash, is a man who enjoys high stakes golf games and does not hesitate to associate with questionable playing partners and opponents when he's "on his game." Packard is called to investigate a brutal double murder and rape aboard a boat in Newport Beach, a crime which echoes throughout the novel when he becomes involved with the young widow of the murdered man. Alternating with the story of Packard, his investigations, and his love life is the story of Lionel Walk, known as Train, an 18-year-old black caddy at the exclusive Brookline Country Club. Conscientious and anxious to do a good job, Train is at the mercy of the world, a young man with a good heart who never seems to catch a break, and Dexter is particularly effective in bringing him to life.
Although Dexter remains faithful to the third person narrative, he tailors his language and points of view to the specific plots he is developing. The action at the golf courses involving Train's life is told from a caddy's-eye view and is described in a deceptively plain-spoken and ungrammatical style. The story line involving Packard is related in more grammatical terms, though Packard is earthy and often uncritical in his observations. The club members' rampant bigotry, casual cruelty, disrespect, and complete disregard for the feelings of the all-black caddy staff and grounds crew are reflected in scenes involving both Train and Packard, with vividly realized dialogue which stings and insults.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By C M Magee on October 21, 2003
Format: Hardcover
In the grand tradition of Los Angeles noir, Pete Dexter's new novel Train, is framed in black and white by the minds eye. Yet Dexter has applied his considerable skill to softening the edges; it is delicately written noir.
Train is Lionel Walk, a black caddy at a posh Brentwood country club, whose world seems populated only by malevolent forces: the crass racism of the country club members, the criminal element among his fellow caddies, and the undisguised malice of his mother's lover. In the same city, and yet, of course, in another world entirely, a woman named Norah is brutally attacked and her husband is murdered while they are on their yacht, anchored off the coast. Norah manages to escape into the arms of a mysterious cop, Miller Packard, whom Train will later dub "Mile Away Man," which sets the book careening towards its inevitable conclusion. Packard is brilliantly written as both heroic rescuer and herald of malignant chaos.
The mystery inherent in this book is not of the whodunit variety - we know from the start who commits the murder on the yacht - rather it is to see which of the forces that seem to inhabit Packard will win out in the end. In fact, one of the strengths of the book is Dexter's ability to embody his characters with such ethereal qualities. Packard seems as though he has been touched by some unmentioned force that torments him. Train, meanwhile, has been similarly touched, and though this force is of pure benevolence, one cannot be sure if it will be strong enough to lift him from his circumstances. Train turns out to be, of all things, a golf prodigy, which would be a lucrative gift for almost anyone except someone in Train's circumstances. Instead, his unaccountable proficiency serves only to further enmesh his life with that of Packard and Norah and a blind former boxer named Plural.
Train is bleak but captivating. The book unfolds in front of you, and you find yourself not wanting to look away.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Andy Orrock VINE VOICE on April 9, 2005
Format: Paperback
I bought 'Train' on a whim at Barnes and Noble, based in part on the moody black & white cover, the back-of-the-book description of 'high-stakes matches' in 1953 featuring a 'black caddy' who is also a 'golf prodigy.' I also fell for the cover note that 'Train' was the 'Winner of the National Book Award Winner.'

Oops. Cancel that. I was taken in by Vintage Contemporaries' little sleight of hand. It's *Mr. Dexter* (for a previous work), not 'Train,' that was bestowed that award. Looking at the cover now, I see it reads 'train | pete dexter' and that the 'Winner' blurb is lined up to the right of that divider line. Subtle, no? But disingenuous nevertheless (I see a couple of other reviewers on these pages were a bit perturbed by this technique as well).

Regardless, there's very good writing here. I was left with the distinct impression of the hardness of growing up African-American in Los Angeles in 1953. Dexter's subtle shift in the dialect of his telling as he shifts from one character to another is superbly done. And his pacing - shifting from 20+ page set-up chapters to punchy two- to three-page bursts by the book's mid-section - is exemplary.

What turned me off about 'Train' was Dexter's lack of any sort of denouement on all but one thread he had woven into the story. Melrose English, Mayflower, Train's mother, Mr. Cooper and susan (no caps), Sweet's motivation, the Darktown Standard...I sped towards the ending to find out how all these pieces were going to fit, and was left with quite an empty taste in my mouth.
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