I picked up The Paperboy after reading about Pete Dexter’s most recent novel, Spooner, on NPR.org. The Paperboy tells the story of two brothers from the (apparently) fictional Moat County, Florida. About ten years apart in age, they’re also quite different people: Jack, the younger, has just been expelled from the University of Florida after being dropped from his swimming scholarship. Ward, the elder, has gone into the family business, and is a reporter with the Miami Times. As the book opens, Jack has moved home and taken a job working for his father at that Moat County paper. Ward, working in Miami, keeps to himself and is primarily concerned with getting the story “right”.
The Paperboy could be described as a newspaper procedural: on the surface it tells the story about getting a story; in this case a story exploring the trial of man convicted of murdering a local, racist sheriff, a trial which was, well, irregular. I suppose it makes sense: Dexter was a newspaper man before he was a novelist and screenwriter‡. But if The Paperboy were only about the news business, I doubt it would have kept my attention.
Throughout the book there are questions as theme: How well do you know the people you love? How well do you really want to? As the story progresses, Jack sees his brother working for what seems like the first time, he initially wonders what’s going on inside his head, and eventually decides that he really doesn’t need to know. That even if he did know, he probably wouldn’t understand. Ward’s approach to the story and to life stands in contrast: his need to get the story “right” goes beyond accuracy, to a compulsive desire for truth and completeness. These two characters drive the story forward in a way I found believable, engaging, and enjoyable.
‡ Dexter [co-]wrote both Michael and Mulholland Falls; interesting combination.
|tags:||1995, fiction, reading, sfpl|