Paper Trails: The Life and Times of Pete Dexter

Paper Trails: The Life and Times of Pete Dexter

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by Pete Dexter

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In the 1970s and 1980s, before he earned national acclaim for his award-winning novels, Pete Dexter was a newspaper columnist. Every week, in a few hundred words, Dexter cut directly to the heart of the American character at a time of national turmoil and crucial change. With haunting urgency, his columns laid bare the violence, hypocrisy, and desperation he saw on

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In the 1970s and 1980s, before he earned national acclaim for his award-winning novels, Pete Dexter was a newspaper columnist. Every week, in a few hundred words, Dexter cut directly to the heart of the American character at a time of national turmoil and crucial change. With haunting urgency, his columns laid bare the violence, hypocrisy, and desperation he saw on the streets of Philadelphia and in the places he visited across the country. But he reveled, too, in the lighter side of his own life, sharing scenes with the indefatigable Mrs. Dexter, their young daughter, and a series of unforgettable creatures who strayed into their lives. No matter what caught Dexter's eye, it was illuminated by his dark, brilliant humor.

Collected here for the first time are eighty-two of the best of those spellbinding, finely wrought pieces—with a new introduction by the author—assembled by Rob Fleder, editor of the bestselling Sports Illustrated 50th Anniversary Book. Paper Trails is searing, heart-breaking, and irresistibly funny, sometimes all at once. As Pete Hamill says in his foreword, these essays "are as good as it ever gets."

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Editorial Reviews

Buzz Bissinger
Better than any print journalist I’ve read, Dexter conveys the fatalism of those unlucky enough in life to have drawn the short straws. Paper Trails shows off a lot of moves - naughty, perverse, anguished, funny in a way that makes you feel really lousy afterward for laughing, and almost always haunting. Dexter may be the best ever at conveying mood - or more accurately the very absence of it. His is a voice meant for the empty spaces of American life, the way Richard Ford was meant for New Jersey.
— The New York Times
Colbert King
… for riveting storytelling and insight into people and circumstances that most of us either take for granted or can't see, Paper Trails is what great newspaper writing is all about.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
In this sprawling collection of finely etched prose, noted novelist Dexter (Paris Trout) lays bare the darker workings of the human experience. Assembled mostly from his newspaper columns for the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Sacramento Bee, these short pieces chronicle the often violent, sometimes tender foibles of the denizens of America's lower socioeconomic strata. Senseless crimes are committed, alcohol flows like water and lives are damaged beyond repair. In clipped, world-weary prose, Dexter writes of Joline, a prostitute working the streets of West Sacramento "The rent is $95 a week, and she still owes the manager fifty. She says that is two dates, maybe three. Joline is twenty-three years old. She says she'll have it in two hours." The stories are imbued with the spirit of the ink-stained old school journalist. While not all the tales are of degradation and mishap Dexter writes tenderly of his wife and child the self-inflicted woes of the less fortunate stay with you. "Mummers Day on Two Street: The body is laid out on the corner. The pink dress is pulled up around the neck, which is painted green. The eyes are partly open; but when you look into them all you see is white." With authority and a strange grace, Dexter has crafted a powerful portrait of the underbelly of the American Dream. (Feb.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Readers will travel from the lighthearted to the bleak aspects of American life within this collection of 82 untitled, previously published journalism stories written by National Book Award winner Dexter (Paris Trout) and collected by Rob Fleder. The laugh-out-loud stories usually involve Mrs. Dexter, tend to show the writer's tender side, and detail the couple's home life, with all their pets and animal visitors, including a wayward peahen that causes Dexter to spend an afternoon attempting to repair his tractor. By contrast, there are essays about injustice, street crime, rape, assault, and animal abuse that will cause the reader to cringe. This collection is ideal for journalism students, writers, and any book lover who appreciates a good story. Recommended for larger public and academic libraries.-Joyce Sparrow, Juvenile Welfare Board Lib., Pinellas Park, FL Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
National Book Award-winner Dexter (Train, 2003, etc.), known for novels steeped in the more sinister aspects of American life, shows where he got his gritty stuff in this collection of early journalism. The book features plenty of columns, most of them well under 1000 words. References to the likes of Angel Cordera and Earl Butz give the work a certain vintage feel. Dexter presents generous slices of plebian life, often with a twist. He writes of city rooms, gas stations and bars at two in the morning. In the streets of the nation, his people eat Wonder Bread sandwiches. He tells of old ladies and killers, burglars and boxers, women of various professions high and low, cats and dogs both living and dead. He presents working stiffs, psychopaths, seedy geezers and cunning kids. Nor does he neglect Mrs. Dexter, ubiquitous in these pages. His men have gravy stains on their clothes, and his women sport cleavage. The text is marked by easy grammar, some wit and frequent muscle. There are moments that verge on affectation, but for the most part the author's true eye for detail makes for easy reading. Stories, yarns and fables in the venerable newsmen's mold.

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Paper Trails

True Stories of Confusion, Mindless Violence, and Forbidden Desires, a Surprising Number of Which Are Not About Marriage
By Pete Dexter

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2007 Pete Dexter
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780061189357

Chapter One

The man spent a week trying to get rid of the cat on the front porch, then he gave up. For that week, he hissed every time he walked out the front door. He lobbed firewood over her head, let his dogs chase her up trees. He told his wife to leave the cat food across the road in the woods.

None of it worked.

In the morning--every morning--the cat would be there to curl around his leg when he came out the door, and after a week he gave up hissing and lobbing firewood, but he did not give up wishing she would go away.

He said to his wife, "As soon as it warms up, quit feeding her and maybe she'll go someplace else." He said that in January.

Two months went by, and it got warmer. The wife quit leaving food. The cat got pregnant. When she rubbed her stomach against his leg now, he thought he could feel the kittens. He didn't say anything when his wife began feeding her again.

The cat was gentler than the other cats that lived in the woods. They showed up from time to time on the front porch too. She was also cleaner than the others. The man noticed that. He had a year-old daughter, and he didn't stop her when she moved to hug the cat. And he had lost things that mattered before and was not inclined to take chanceswith his child.

The litter of kittens came in the middle of April. There were five of them, all except one looked like the mother. They were white and had brown and black circles on their heads and shoulders and tails. The fifth one was gray.

The delivery occurred behind a pile of stacked bricks in a neighbor's yard. The neighbor had a German shepherd, and the man's wife climbed the fence between the yards to move the kittens into a cardboard box near his front porch.

As she was going back over the fence for the second one, the mother cat was coming under the fence with the first one, carrying it back to the bricks.

The wife worried about the kittens at night. The man said he was worried too. "I don't know what we'll do if the dog gets them," he said. "Imagine being down to eleven cats again. Oh, Christ, I can't think about it . . ."

But when he looked again one afternoon a week later and there were only three of them left, the feeling he got stayed with him through supper.

A day or two later he moved them to a pile of scrap wood in his backyard. He had been planning to haul the wood away for eight months, which meant--conservatively--that the kittens had another half-year before they had to worry about finding a different place to stay.

That was the way the man was.

The hawk was waiting in a high limb of one of the tallest pine trees in the woods across the road. The man had seen her hunt from there before. She was brown in the face and wings and a redder color across her chest. When she left the limb, her wings would pump the air slowly, and it was the nature of her power that you could see the effect of each of the strokes on her flight.

Tip to tip, those wings were five feet across.

Right now, though, the man wasn't watching the hawk. He was watching the cat, who was moving her kittens away from the wood pile. There were only two of them left, the gray and one that looked like the mother.

The cat picked up the white one by the skin around its neck, walked to a tree. She dropped it, picked it up again to get the right hold, then moved up the tree and onto the flat part of the roof. She found a protected spot behind a roll of tar paper that the man had left there--planning to fix a leak--and put the kitten down.

The man was watching all this in the garden, wondering what had eaten his bean sprouts, and that didn't make him any happier about having a nest of cats on his roof. He began working on the two plans at the same time, one for the beans, one for the cats. The mother came back down the tree.

She was close by when the hawk got the gray kitten. It had been nursing when she'd decided to move and it had held onto a nipple for a couple of seconds after she'd gotten up. The kitten had dropped off in the sunshine, a foot or two from the pile of wood.

It was too young still to move without its mother, so it lay in the grass and waited, half again the size of a mouse.

The mother cat was almost back to it when the shadow blocked out the sun. She ducked, then looked back. There was the shadow, the sound of the hawk's wings, pine needles and dust blowing off the ground, and then the gray kitten was gone. It seemed to happen all at once.

The hawk carried it in her talons out over the lake, banked through a long circle and disappeared behind the trees across the road.

The man walked over to the cat. She searched his face, then came up on her hind legs, asking for her kitten back. He held out his hands to show her he didn't have it, then started for the house to get her some milk.

As he moved, his shadow crossed the cat and she cringed, and that is what he would lie awake thinking about that night, and the next.

The man had lost things that had mattered before, and he knew what it was to cringe at sudden shadows, the ones that just drop on you out of the sky.


Excerpted from Paper Trails by Pete Dexter Copyright © 2007 by Pete Dexter. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

Pete Dexter is the author of the National Book Award-winning novel Paris Trout and five other novels: God's Pocket, Deadwood, Brotherly Love, The Paperboy, and Train. He has been a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News and the Sacramento Bee, and has contributed to many magazines, including Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Playboy. His screenplays include Rush and Mulholland Falls. Dexter was born in Michigan and raised in Georgia, Illinois, and eastern South Dakota. He lives on an island off the coast of Washington.

Rob Fleder was executive editor of Sports Illustrated and the editor of SI Books during his twenty years at Time Inc. He was the editor of Sports Illustrated 50th Anniversary Book, Sports Illustrated: The Baseball Book, Sports Illustrated: The Football Book, and Hate Mail from Cheerleaders, among other New York Times bestsellers.

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Paper Trails: True Stories of Confusion, Mindless Violence, and Forbidden Desires, a Surprising Number of Which Are Not About Marriage 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have enjoyed Pete Dexter since he was a columnist for the newspapers in Philadelphia, PA