Dexter's books are noir at its most bleak, unforgiving, humane and disturbing. At his best, he uncovers a side of American life that is unsung, uncelebrated and perhaps best undiscovered, at least in real life. The deep south has always been an area of darkness - with its slave plantations, its human rights record and the Florida hinterlands where kids don't go to school much, even if they want to. The poor white trash get raw deals as a matter of course and never, it seems to the observer, manage to make the best of things.
In this novel two brothers, the sons of a small county newspaper proprietor, make their way towards truth in the case of a murder. They work for a large paper in Miami and are joined by a woman determined to save a man on death row. Ward, the elder brother, is a respected reporter but has made his name in an investigation case with another reporter as his partner. The younger brother, the novel's narrator, is drafted in as a driver and gofer.
Dexter's strength is in character. Ward is taciturn, obsessive, dysfunctional on a social level, but honest and moral. His partner is altogether more mercurial, a ladies' man, a dissimulator, but a writer at least. Their investigations into the background of the case against poor white boy, Hillary van Wetter, seem unpromising at first, but there are contra-indications and puzzling lapses in police procedure.
The writing is undemonstrative, like the brothers, but astonishingly powerful as high drama unfolds. There are no wasted words and it is compulsive reading. This is a haunting, violent, and deeply disturbing novel.
Telling a dark story about investigative reporting and the people involved in it, Pete Dexter sets his story in 1965 - 1969, in Moat County, Florida. Jack James, the narrator, is a college dropout who works as a driver and general gofer for his idealistic brother Ward, a reporter for the Miami Times, and his writing partner, Yardley Acheman, an attention-seeking dandy. The two writers are investigating the possibility that Hillary Van Wetter, convicted of the murder of the sheriff in the town where Ward grew up, may have had an alibi--along with an incompetent attorney. Charlotte Bless, an attractive woman who has a fetish for death row inmates like Hillary, aids them by providing mountains of files she has collected about the murder.
As Ward and Yardley investigate, Dexter explores the newspaper business. Questions they raise about Van Wetter's legal counsel, a famous good-ol'-boy attorney, affect the reputation and popularity of Ward James's father, owner of the local newspaper, sending his ad revenues plummeting. When Ward is physically unable to continue working on the story, Acheman and an editor from Miami rush the story into print and the second phase of the novel begins.
Ward James and Yardley Acheman, represent the drive of reporters to succeed and their tendency to identify personally with their stories. The aftereffects of the reporters' investigation into the Van Wetter case, which constitute phase two, grow exponentially, further affecting the reporters, Ward James's father, Charlotte Bless, and, obviously Hillary Van Wetter, as the national media become involved. Along the way, Dexter raises ethical questions, not just about the ethics of reporting, but about the ability of the press to control outcomes and public perceptions. Ultimately, he raises the issue of whether justice is served when the egos of reporters and the desire to sell newspapers cause the media to lose their sense of perspective and cloud their judgment about what is right.
Dexter, an outstanding writer of (sometimes earthy) dialogue is brilliant in his selection of revealing details, especially the mannerisms of his sometimes odd characters--how they move, speak, and respond to direct questions. Ultimately, most of them face ironic destinies. While this novel may not have the intense thematic focus of Paris Trout, which won the National Book Award in 1988, it raises important issues regarding the press, and in the process tells an exciting story about the search for justice. Mary Whipple
on 28 December 2013
`Bleak' isn't always a bad thing when it comes to books. I've read several books that I'd describe as bleak but that I really loved: Never Let Me Go and The Woman Before Me are two that come to mind. I'd put The Paperboy in a slightly different category, perhaps alongside The Virgin Suicides - its bleakness made it hard to really love, but something in the craft of the writing and the integrity of the story kept me reading.
I had no idea what The Paperboy was about before reading - I knew it was recently made into a film but had no preconceptions. I was surprised by the beginning, which tells of a county sheriff found murdered and the man from the notorious Van Wetter family on death row as a result. So it got off to an interesting enough start, if a little meandering. The gist of the rest of the novel is that three paperboys (men working for a newspaper, rather than boys delivering them) are persuaded by the fiancee of Hillary Van Wetter to investigate the sheriff's murder in the hope of finding evidence that will see him released from death row. This sounds like it holds the promise of a fast-paced, intriguing story, no?
Unfortunately not. This felt like one of the longest and slowest-moving books I've read. This impression is heightened by the complete lack of chapter divisions, so it's just one interminable narrative told from one fairly monotonous and uninspiring perspective. Jack James is not really a paperboy; he drives delivery trucks for his father (who does own a small, local paper) and has no particular grand plan for his life. His brother Ward is building his reputation as a reporter in Miami, working in partnership with another ambitious young man called Yardley Acheman. When Ward and Yardley are recruited by Charlotte Bless to investigate the Van Wetter case, they return to Jack's home town and enlist Jack as their driver and general dogsbody.
Presumably, each member of this group is meant to be enigmatic and interesting; I just found them all incredibly frustrating (at best). Ward is focused and thorough, making him an excellent investigative reporter, but is also brooding and uncommunicative. Jack is rather self-pitying, constantly suggesting that his father is prouder of and closer to Ward than to him without actually doing anything himself to improve the relationship. Charlotte is manipulative and flaky, and Yardley is apparently entirely without morals. I didn't really care about of any of them, unfortunately.
The other major problem with The Paperboy is that nothing happens. It's pages and pages and pages recounting conversations with Hillary and other Van Wetters, and the odd official who will speak to them. Each day merges into the next, as does each evening. The same conversations are had over and over again. I am inclined to give Pete Dexter the benefit of the doubt, as I think he is technically a very talented writer, and suggest that this is deliberate: the pace and pathos of the narrative reflects that of the lifestyle in the small Florida towns in which it's set. It's this that gives it that overriding sense of bleakness, but for me it's just overdone and comes at the expense of compelling readability.
In its favour, The Paperboy conjures up a particular time and place vividly. It explores the prejudices that characterise that time and place, and provides characters and situations that could provoke a lot of discussion and debate, since nothing is neatly tied up and explained. If you enjoy long and lingering atmospheric descriptions, and books that are more portraits of unusual characters rather than forward-moving stories, this could be the book for you. It's just not for me.
There is a feeling of authenticity that runs through this book, which is probably because Pete Dexter was a journalist and knows all the tricks that go on. This tale set in 1969 starts with an incident a few years earlier. In 1965, Thurmond Call the sheriff of Moat County, having killed many black persons in the line of duty (sound familiar?) kills a white person. After this Call is found brutally murdered, and with a perpetrator being found and prosecuted, and now sitting on Death Row that should be the end of the tale, but things are about to change.
Narrated by Jack James as he thinks back to the year of 1969 when he was nineteen, we read of what happens. Jack’s father is the owner of a local newspaper, and Jack’s brother, Ward works for the Miami Times. Ward is coming back to Moat County, with another reporter in tow, Yardley Acheman, looking for a good story. According to Charlotte Bess, who gets all wet down below whilst writing to killers in prison, Hillary Van Wetter is innocent.
Dexter here gives us a story that is quite slow moving but he tries to evoke the atmosphere of a small community in comparison to somewhere big like Miami. As the newshounds get under way with investigating and producing a story we see that Ward is slightly naive and honest, whereas Yardley is someone who just goes for hitting the jugular, without doing that much research. And when Ward is beaten and in hospital Yardley pushes the story home and has it printed in the paper, after all there could be a Pulitzer in it.
A tale of sex, fame, honesty and secrets this does make for an interesting read, but as we see as we read through to the end of this, certain actions have lasting and fatal effects. In all this is quite interesting, but at times with other issues entering the tale this does wander a bit, which is probably why it is a relatively slow read for its length. This could make a good choice for a book group, as it does give you a lot to discuss about here.
This is the story of two brothers, Jack and Ward. Jack acts as driver to Ward, a reporter who is investigating the case of death row prisoner, Hillary Van Wetter on behalf of his fiancé Charlotte Bless who has never met him, only corresponded with him, but is determined to prove his innocence.
It is not the story that I thought it was going to be. It is only told through the eyes of Jack so therefore we only ever see things from his perspective which in some ways is a shame as we never really get to know the other characters in the book and what makes them tick, so for the most part, they are not quite as well rounded as they could be. Some of the characters, most notably the Van Wetter family members, just come across as stereotypical rednecks, brutal and ignorant - which makes some of the conspiracy claims made against them later in the book a little hard to swallow. I would have liked to have known Charlotte better to understand what makes a woman get engaged to a death row prisoner she has never met but the story concentrates on the brothers' investigations instead.
Set in 1969 during times when civil rights, especially in the south of the United States, were very much in their infancy, we see sexism, homophobia, racism as well as corruption that is almost a part of daily life in the story, both in the legal and political systems as well as the newspaper industry which is the background to the story.
Nevertheless, it is a good read, which starts off slowly and, for me, doesn't really get going until the second half of the book. I give it 3.5 out of 4 - it is better than OK, but I just did not quite "like it".
on 30 May 2015
The film was gritty and gruesome and I thought it was great. So, I decided to read the book because books are always better than the film. Right?
For the first time ever, the answer is no.
That's not to say this book is bad. It's not but, I felt it just plodded along without particularly exciting me. There were parts of the film that really provoked a reaction in me yet, when reading them, I felt a little under whelmed. Disappointed even.
I would have enjoyed the book more, had I not seen the film first but, without seeing the film, I would probably never have discovered the book. I only discovered the film because I'll watch anything with Zac Efron in ;)
on 12 August 2013
I decided to read the before seeing the film (which I have yet to do and from all I have read, has some major script differences). However the storyline was rather dull and I never really got into the characters despite a feeling that I should have. The book meanders along in a way that suggests the humidity of the area described has filtered into the writing, so while not bad, I wouldn't go so far as to recommend it.
on 5 July 2013
I bought The Paperboy (Kindle edition) long before I got around to reading it. Even when I started to read, I had to push myself a bit to stay with it. However, once the story began to unfold, I was totally hooked. Pete Dexter's observations, his detailed descriptions, his sense of place and time, and his pacing of the story made this book a remarkable read--and his keen sense of humour was icing on the cake. It's a tale that will not be to everyone's taste (it's not for the squeamish), but I found even the most unlikeable characters and events well drawn. I would have given this book five stars except that there was a tiny bit more I wanted to know about the outcome. Still, I plan to see the film and read all of Pete Dexter's work, so in that sense he certainly did what he set out to do as a storyteller.
on 26 November 2013
I read this novel perhaps fifteen years ago and loved it. I recall thinking it would make a great film. Someone had the same idea but when I watched the recent film I wondered why I had loved the novel. So I bought it again and confirmed that it is a terrific book -- subtle, sensitive, touching, complex and SO SAD. A stunning evocation of place and examination of relationships between two brothers and their father. The film is crude and sensational by comparison so please do not be deterred from reading this terrific book.
on 22 March 2013
I cannot rate this highly enough. I bought it when it was a daily deal but after reading it would have been more than happy to have paid full price. Pete Dexter is one of those authors with a voice, one that I loved listening to. He has great insight into people and their behaviours and a great turn of phrase, making his comments always interesting, at times very amusing and never dull. Read this book, it is worth your time.Do think some of the reviewers here have missed the point somewhat, it is a book about the journey not the destination. The story is complete, there are no loose ends but ultimately it is a book about characters, full of acute observations.