The sun was rising over Moat County, Florida, when Sheriff Thurmond Call was found on the highway, gutted like an alligator. A local redneck was tried, sentenced, and set to fry.
Then Ward James, hotshot investigative reporter for the Miami Times, returns to his rural hometown with a death row femme fatale who promises him the story of the decade. She's armed with explosive evidence, aiming to freeand meether convicted "fiancé."
With Ward's disillusioned younger brother Jack as their driver, they barrel down Florida's back roads and seamy places in search of The Story, racing flat out into a shocking head-on collision between character and fate as truth takes a back seat to headline news...
Pete Dexter is the author of the National Book Award–winning novel Paris Trout as well as Spooner, Paper Trails, God’s Pocket, Deadwood, Brotherly Love, 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.
Read an Excerpt
ON A COLD WINTER MORNING four years later, early in 1969in the same year my brother would blossom as a journalistI lost my swimming scholarship at the University of Florida. A few weeks afterward, I was expelled for an act of vandalism.
Specifically, I drank a small bottle of vodka and drained the swimming pool, which, while childish, is more complicated work than it may seem from the outside. I don't want to get into the mechanics of it now, but let me assure you that you don't just pull the plug.
I returned home, ashamed, and went to work at my father's newspaper, the Moat County Tribune, driving a delivery truck.
My father never asked what had happened to me in Gainesville, or if I intended to go back, but it was clear that he meant for me to drive the truck until I saw it was this life's one alternative to a college education.
He was not formally educated himself, and often spoke of he fact as if it were something lost. "Lord, I would have loved to study literature," he would say, as if he needed permission from a college to read books.
All that winter and spring I drove the north route for the Tribune, traveling 325 miles over the narrow, mostly shoulderless two-lane roads of northern Moat County. I loaded the truck in the dark, passing the sign marking Thorn's city limits by three-thirty in the morning.
Each morning at nine o'clock, if the truck didn't break own and the press runs were on time, I came to the clearing where Sheriff Call's car had been found. The spot was partially hidden from the roada baked, treeless circle cut to a stand of pines, a picnic table and two outdoor toilets no more than twenty feet apart, the men's to the east, the Ladies' to the west. A marker indicated the spot where the best school in the state had once stood, and a hand-painted gun attached to one of the privies showed a Confederate flag and a hand unconnected to any arm, and across these pages the legend MOAT COUNTY EXTENDS A WELCOME HAND TO YANKEES !
Fifteen miles down the road was my last stop of the dayten papers that I was required to place facedown on a makeshift wooden table just behind the gum ball machines inside sun-faded country store run by an indeterminate number of members of the Van Wetter family, who did not want their patrons met with bad news as they came in the door.
What specific blood connection these Van Wetters had to the man Sheriff Call stomped to death, I do not know. The Van Wetters occupied half a column of the Moat County telephone book and their children rarely married outside the family. Calculating the collateral relations was beyond me, even if the Van Wetters had been inclined to discuss their family tree, which they were not.
I can only tell you that some mornings an old man was there, blind and freshly angry, as if the blindness had come over him in the night. He would make his way to the papers I had brought and count them, moving the folded edges up into the palm of his hand with his fingers, as if he were tickling them, his face scowling up into the window like a sour plant growing to light. And some mornings it was his wife.
Other times there was a young, pregnant woman with the most beautiful skin I had ever seen, whose children would run through a curtain and into the back when I came into the store.
This woman never looked up, but a moment after the children had disappeared, a man whose face had been burnedwhose skin creased at his eye like a badly ironed shirtwould emerge from the curtain and stand a foot inside the room, his hands at his sides, watching until I had stacked the papers and left.
Once, when I had forgotten to collect for the week, I went back into the store and found him still standing where I'd left him, staring at her as she straightened boxes of candy bars in the case under the counter.
She looked at me then, for an instant, and it was as if I'd brought some bad news beyond what was in my newspapers.
It was possible, I think, that anytime the door opened it was bad news for her.
I never heard her speak to the man with the burned face, I'd I never heard him speak to her. I assumed they were man and wife.
I WOULD FINISH THE ROUTE before ten, park the truck, walk the six blocks home, and fall into bed with a beer and a copy of the newspaper I had been delivering all morning. Early in the afternoon, I would slip away from the stories in the paper into a jumpy sleep, full of dreams, waking up a few hours later in this, the same room where I had slept all the nights of my childhood, not knowing where I was.
Something like that had been happening at Gainesville too, and sometimes in those moments between dreams and consciousness, when I was lost, I glimpsed myself as untied to either place.
I would get out of bed then and walk to the city pool and swim laps. Or, when I could borrow my father's truckhe kept his new Chrysler in the driveway and left the garage for a beloved twelve-year-old Ford pickup which he used only to go fishingI drove north to St. Augustine and would swim out into the ocean a mile or more, until my arms and legs were dead weight, and then slowly, allowing the water to hold me up, I would turn and make my way back.
I threw myself away and was returned intact to the beach, and in this way I was somehow saved from those moments it had taken, fresh from sleep, to recognize the room where my most private thoughts had been thought, and private courses set, for all my life. The walls of my childhood.
About the Book:The sun was rising over Moat County, Florida, when Sheriff Thurmond Call was found on the highway, gutted like an alligator. A local redneck was tried, sentenced, and set to fry.
Then Ward James, hotshot investigative reporter for the Miami Times, returns to his rural hometown with a death row femme fatale who promises him the story of the decade. She's armed with explosive evidence, aiming to freeand meether convicted "fiancÚ."
With Ward's disillusioned younger brother Jack as their driver, they barrel down Florida's back roads and seamy places in search of The Story, racing flat out into a shocking head-on collision between character and fate as truth takes a back seat to headline news...Discussion Questions: Question: The book begins with the death of Sheriff Call, about which the narrator says the message was "not the loss of Thurmond Call, but of something more fundamental that people had felt themselves losing all along." The story goes on to record many losses. Is there a character who does not lose something but gains something during the course of this story? If so, is it because the character is marked by a lack of expectations? Question: The narrator of the story remarks that "a newspaper story, like anything else, is more attractive from a distance, when it comes to you, than it is when you get close and agonize over the details." What are Ward, Yardley, and Charlotte initially attracted to in the case of Hillary Van Wetter? What does each character hope to gain from the case, and how is each disappointed as he or she becomes familiar with the story's details? Question: Water is a powerful image throughout the book. Jack swims as a means of healing, Ward dies in the ocean, and Jack distinctly recalls that he has never seen his father wet. Discuss how each character is defined by his relationship to water. How is it significant that the Van Wetter family lives in the swamplands? And what does the author intend by placing the James family in a county called Moat? Question: Discuss the similarities between Ward and Charlotte that drive them to connect with destructive people, Yardley and Hillary Van Wetter respectively. What do they have in common that would explain each one's self-destructive behavior? What about them explains why one life ended in murder and one in suicide? Question: Ward continually places himself in potentially violent situations, but, as Jack points out, "those were not the things that frightened my brother." What satisfaction does Ward gain from the threat of violence? In what situations is Ward shown to be truly frightened, and what causes his fear? Question: Two generations of reporters are portrayed in this story. Jack observes his father and his fellow editors and comments that "what moved them was not to know things, but to tell them." How is Ward's approach to journalism fundamentally different from his father's and what effect does this have on their relationship? Question: Throughout the book, W.W. is disturbed by his disintegrating family, but there is evidence that he is to blame for his isolation. What potentially fruitful relationships does he neglect? Question: Charlotte calls Hillary an intact man. What does she mean by this? Is there a point during her meetings with him when she realizes she is wrong? If so, why does she marry him? Question: Jack reflects that Charlotte was left with a situation which while of her own making, bore no resemblance to the one she had envisioned. Do you think this is true of W.W. Ward, and Jack? What do you think each one envisioned for himself, and how do you think he sees himself through the course of this story? Question: More than anything else, W.W. looks forward to the moment he can hand the newspaper over to his son Ward. How does the publication of Ward's story affect this plan? Question: What do you think was the deciding factor in Ward's ultimate demise: the rejection by his father, the beating he suffered and the exposure of his homosexuality, or the aftermath of the Hillary Van Wetter investigation? Question: It has been said of Pete Dexter that "what deepens and darkens his writing so that art is the precise word to describe it is a powerful understanding that character rules, that we live with our weaknesses and die of our strengths" (John Skow, Time). How is Ward's decline inextricably tied to his strengths as a person and a reporter? Discuss this observation as it applies to other characters in the book.
Paperboy 3.8 out of 5based on
More than 1 year ago
Like the other Peter Dexter books the characters would in the real world or should in the real world be in serious long term therapy. Dexter makes them fascinating and aggravating. His powers of observation and narrative are fascinating and keeps me riveted to find out whats going on in the book and how he tells it; in a measured pace that is similar to getting to know characters in real life, bit by bit, and completely compelling.
More than 1 year ago
More than 1 year ago
More than 1 year ago
More than 1 year ago
More than 1 year ago
If not for the word, "bizarre", I wouldn't know what else to call it. I finished it because I was engaged in the beginning, but soon lost touch with the addition of complex characters and lack of character building. I admit, I'm interested to see how the movie translates.
More than 1 year ago
More than 1 year ago
I absolutely loved this book. I was sucked in to it, by the very first page. It is a must read.
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