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Train Paperback – February 1, 2005
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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 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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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.
Miller Packard is a detective in Los Angeles, but he doesn't act like one. A gifted golfer with a brutal disposition he's as hard-boiled as they come, associating with anyone who'll take risks and gamble money. Packard seems to be riding that fence between the legal and the illegal, ethical and crooked. But results are what matters and Packard sees the world without shades of skin color or class distinctions - he sees everything as being in three camps; that which can hurt him, that which can help him, and the rest. He deals with life pro actively.
Train is in the wrong place at the wrong time, finding himself in the middle of a murder and rape investigation that he didn't want any part of while fighting through his own personal hell at home where his mother has yet again taken up with the wrong man. Everything that can go wrong does.
Until Packard notices that Train can play the game of golf.
Then it all turns into a roller coaster ride.
A ride I enjoyed to the end. Masterfully told and perfectly timed.
- CV Rick
It's Los Angeles 1953 and we are focussed on two main protagonists. The first is Lionel Walk, or Train, as he is more commonly known. Train is a young black man who works at the exclusive Brookline Country Club. We follow his fortunes first as a caddy and then as a greenkeeper and later as his relationship and feelings of responsibility for a fellow caddy known as Plural. The other is Detective Sergeant Miller Packard, an incredibly enigmatic man who seems to exude authority and confidence. He always appears to be in total control of every situation right up to the moment he loses the handle with disastrous consequences.
Their paths cross a number of times and although these encounters proved mutually beneficial to both men, there always seemed to be an unsatisfactory ending whenever they parted. Scenes of quiet amusement are followed by scenes of extreme violence wrenching the emotions from empathy to sympathy in an instant.
I had a problem with the ending, feeling it was wrapped up incredibly quickly and leaving way too many questions unanswered for my liking. Apart from this quibble I found I was completely engrossed from the opening line.