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Train [Paperback]

Pete Dexter
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Feb. 1 2005 Vintage Contemporaries
Train is a 18-year-old black caddy at an exclusive L.A. country club. He is a golf prodigy, but the year is 1953 and there is no such thing as a black golf prodigy. Nevertheless, Train draws the interest of Miller Packard, a gambler whose smiling, distracted air earned him the nickname “the Mile Away Man.” Packard’s easy manner hides a proclivity for violence, and he remains an enigma to Train even months later when they are winning high stakes matches against hustlers throughout the country. Packard is also drawn to Norah Still, a beautiful woman scared in a hideous crime, a woman who finds Packard’s tendency toward violence both alluring and frightening. In the ensuing triangular relationship kindness is never far from cruelty.

In Train, National Book Award-winning Pete Dexter creates a startling, irresistibly readable book that crackles with suspense and the live-wire voices of its characters.

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From Amazon

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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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars QUIRKY, GOTHIC, GOOD April 19 2004
"...this was not an ordinary citizen of Beverly Hills...He probably never threatened anyone in his life. He would skip that step."
That brief passage from TRAIN describes Miller Packard, a detective, who befriends a young black caddy named Lionel Walk, nicknamed "Train", and serves as an example of Pete Dexter's raw, spare writing.
Set in pre-integration California, TRAIN examines the societal relationship between the races that existed then, using a noir style as the vehicle. Given that background, TRAIN in particular is a love story and the story of a friendship between Train and Packard. Golf is also featured prominently in the novel and Mr. Dexter knows his golf, using terms and insights into the game that give this almost a sports novel feel.
At times violent and at times quirky, almost gothic, TRAIN also explores the human psyche with a sharp understanding of people and their motives, both base and higher.
If you enjoy excellent writing, a fast-paced story, penetrating character analysis, realistic action and high-stakes golf, be sure to catch this five-star train for a good read.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Racism is a Losing Proposition April 12 2004
This is a tough book to like. None of the characters are all that redeeming yet I recommend this book because of its insights on the destructive results of racism and discrimination. Dexter has an important perspective on the subject which tends to show how everyone loses. He also tends to imply that as destructive as racism is, we are all vulnerable to being sucked into it.
The main character in this book is a caddy names Lionel "Train" Walk who is truly a great golfer and eventually is befriended by a policeman/hustler Miller Packard.
Being a black caddy in Los Angeles a number of decades ago was not a pleasant experience. During the book, Lionel will be wrongly arrested and will have problems keeping a job.
The one job he eventually lands is in playing golf for high stakes with Miller Packard who funds the entire enterprise while relying on Train's abilities. Packard's experience with racism is exacerbated by the experience of his girlfriend, a social activist whose husband is brutally murdered.
Throughout the book, the characters will encounter a number of challenging events that often force them to reconsider their stands on race and relationships. The only constant in the book is a dark and bleak outlook along with Lionel's stellar golfing.
As a whole, the book will not leave you with a warm feeling about humanity but will cause you to think long and hard about an important subject.
The only annoyance is there seems to be a few plot threads that are left hanging in the end. Still, worth reading.
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It´¿s pretty clear from reading other reviews for Train that people either really like or really dislike this book. I really liked it, although I can see why some wouldn´¿t.
Train is the story of three people caught in a relationship triangle that is coincidentally both tenuous and gripping. Train is actually a caddy on a ritzy LA golf course named Lionel Walk. The book opens with him caddying for a group that includes a La COP´¿Miller Packard. The caddy and the cop develop a quick bond out on the course. The relationship develops further as two of Train´¿s companions at the course kidnap and Norah Still and her husband on their luxury boat-raping Norah and killing her husband. Packard gets the case and falls in love´¿or at least falls in something´¿with Norah.
This swirl of event keeps the three in loose yet intense contact throughout the book.
The underlying themes involve racism, brutality, love and, to be honest, abnormal psychology as all three of these characters carry significant psychic baggage that forms their behaviors and thoughts and directs them into places and situations that normal folks would care to visit.
The book stands as a very elegant character study. Moreover, it presents a very rich and compelling noir vision of 1950´¿s LA.
The book contains scenes of brutal, explicit violence. There is an abundance of generalized but not particularly explicit sexual situations.
This is not a book for the faint hearted but fo those who can take it it´¿s a fascinating look into the realm of the seriously disaffected urban flotsam of 1950´¿s LA.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Long Descent Into Hell Feb. 11 2004
Peter Dexter's Train is being marketed as a suspense thriller, and that might explain some of the reviews that are appearing here. Although the book is centered around a premise that would only appear in that genre, Train is a mystery thriller without any mystery. Instead, it is about the way characters are affected by situations that are way beyond their means and understanding.
Train is a seventeen year old black boy who knows nothing but hardship. Growing up in a time of racial inequity, Train faces the very same prejudice every day. He works as a caddy at a golf course, getting nothing but a few bucks a week. When two of the caddies working at the same golf course brutally attack a woman, killing her husband in the process, Train is fired from his job and left on the street.
As the story progresses, the novel follows Train as he finds a new job on another golf course. The novel also follows the woman who was brutally attacked and who falls in love with the cop who saved her, and the cop who only lives one way: on the edge.
Great characters entertwine in this complex narrative that never ceases to impress. Dexter's writing is often funny (some of his every-day observations made me laugh out loud quite a few times, especially one concerning eggs and chicken), and often dark. Dexter uses elegant prose while telling the story of the rich woman, and slang and bad grammar when telling Train's story, which only adds to the characters's complexity.
Dexter uses characters that are broken beyond repair to tell an otherwise simple story. Train is the kind of innocent, naive character who is just awaiting his awakening. He goes through life accepting what he sees without really questioning anything.
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Most recent customer reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Doesn't work
The author tries to pull together a varied cast of characters,
and from various periods of our history, and it doesn't
seem to work. Read more
Published on June 9 2004 by bill runyon
4.0 out of 5 stars An Honest But Bleak Journey
Miller Packard plays games with himself. He pushes life right up to the edge and then balances there as long as possible. His life is a mess. Read more
Published on May 12 2004 by FictionAddiction.NET
2.0 out of 5 stars Not real crazy about this one
I picked this up in the library, just seeing the binding and thinking it was about trains. After reading the description and seeing the (misleading) "National Book Award Winner"... Read more
Published on April 4 2004 by Jason Purdy
3.0 out of 5 stars weak plot but compelling characters
not nearly as interesting and contained a plot as dexter's Brotherly Love, but the characters are just weird enough to inch their way into your consciousness. Read more
Published on Feb. 18 2004 by finn
1.0 out of 5 stars Pete Dexter gets flattened by a Train
I have been a fan of Pete Dexter's since I read the first sentence of Deadwood. Dexter is a major talent and his novels Paper Boy and Deadwood, along with the screenplay for... Read more
Published on Jan. 23 2004 by Kidd Horn
2.0 out of 5 stars Double Bogie
Dexter has a style all his own, thus the 2 stars. Otherwise, I found the prose more dime story dramatics. Novels that get wrapped up in gutter talk belong in the trash. Read more
Published on Jan. 19 2004
4.0 out of 5 stars Fast and entertaining
A cross between Elmore Leonard and Walter Moseley, Train is peopled with colorful characters and paced with ironic incidents. Read more
Published on Jan. 6 2004 by martha steffen
1.0 out of 5 stars Train
I'm sorry. I don't know what book some of the reviewers have been reading, but it's not this one. I found the first 16 pages so boring I couldn't think of a reason to read the... Read more
Published on Jan. 2 2004
2.0 out of 5 stars I hope Pete's not running out of gas..
You can read the synopsis of this novel in any of the above reviews. The bottom line is, this book isn't up to Dexter's talent. Read more
Published on Dec 20 2003 by "marg3949"
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