Tuesday, March 13, 2007

A bit more on Pete Dexter’s Paper Trails: True Stories of Confusion, Mindless Violence, and Forbidden Desires. In case, you haven’t come across the book or its various reviews of it- all of which have been laudatory- it’s a collection of Dexter’s columns which he wrote some years back for the Philadelphia Daily News, the Sacramento Bee, Esquire and Sports Illustrated. These days, of course, Dexter is one of the best slice-of-life novelists around, author of Train, Paris Trout, The Paperboy, God’s Pocket and Brotherly Love. In fact, I was more impressed with this collection than I thought I would be. The short vignettes- most of them coming in at around 1500 words- about loners, loser and eccentrics, including a fair dose of killers, psychos, athletes and ordinary people, including himself and his family- have not only withstood the test of time in a way that most collected journalism does not, but constitute short stories on their own. Or seeds of novels, such the column that would later form the basis of the excellent God’s Pocket. Normally, in a collection like this I’ll pick and choose, skip the stuff I don’t like. But in this case there was nothing for me to skip over. Reading it also has made me come to the conclusion that isn’t anyone who writes quite like Dexter, who can be so tough and so tender- bordering occasionally on sentimentality and a somewhat strained humor, the result no doubt of having to meet deadlines. Nor can I think of anyone able to use the genre of column writing as Dexter did, who could be, one the one hand, so economical with words, yet so expansive in his thoughts. Breslin may have reinvigorated the genre- well, not exactly, because before him there was the likes of Heywood Broun not to mention Mark Twain and Mencken- but Dexter digs deep, and invariably comes up with the goods. Sure, sometimes he falls short of that perfect final line that’s meant to neat sum everything up. And I could have done with fewer entries about his bloody cat. Nevertheless, this is a book that every writer should read. Now I’m going to go back to his novels, which I’ve only partially read. http://www.facebook.com/facebook-widgets/share.php

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