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Paper Trails: True Stories of Confusion, Mindless Violence, and Forbidden Desires, a Surprising Number of Which Are Not about Marriageby Pete Dexter
Synopses & Reviews
In the 1970s and 1980s, before he earned national acclaim for his award-winning novels, Pete Dexter was a newspaper columnist. Every week, in a few hundred words, Dexter cut directly to the heart of the American character at a time of national turmoil and crucial change. With haunting urgency, his columns laid bare the violence, hypocrisy, and desperation he saw on the streets of Philadelphia and in the places he visited across the country. But he reveled, too, in the lighter side of his own life, sharing scenes with the indefatigable Mrs. Dexter, their young daughter, and a series of unforgettable creatures who strayed into their lives. No matter what caught Dexter's eye, it was illuminated by his dark, brilliant humor.
Collected here for the first time are eighty-two of the best of those spellbinding, finely wrought pieces—with a new introduction by the author—assembled by Rob Fleder, editor of the bestselling Sports Illustrated 50th Anniversary Book. Paper Trails is searing, heart-breaking, and irresistibly funny, sometimes all at once. As Pete Hamill says in his foreword, these essays "are as good as it ever gets."
"In this sprawling collection of finely etched prose, noted novelist Dexter (Paris Trout) lays bare the darker workings of the human experience. Assembled mostly from his newspaper columns for the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Sacramento Bee, these short pieces chronicle the often violent, sometimes tender foibles of the denizens of America's lower socioeconomic strata. Senseless crimes are committed, alcohol flows like water and lives are damaged beyond repair. In clipped, world-weary prose, Dexter writes of Joline, a prostitute working the streets of West Sacramento — 'The rent is $95 a week, and she still owes the manager fifty. She says that is two dates, maybe three. Joline is twenty-three years old. She says she'll have it in two hours.' The stories are imbued with the spirit of the ink-stained old school journalist. While not all the tales are of degradation and mishap — Dexter writes tenderly of his wife and child — the self-inflicted woes of the less fortunate stay with you. 'Mummers Day on Two Street: The body is laid out on the corner. The pink dress is pulled up around the neck, which is painted green. The eyes are partly open; but when you look into them all you see is white.' With authority and a strange grace, Dexter has crafted a powerful portrait of the underbelly of the American Dream." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"If you love the kind of writing that transports you to places you never would imagine visiting, and coming across characters you never would expect to meet, then there are more than 80 reasons to get a copy of Pete Dexter's 'Paper Trails.' Well, the number, to be exact, is 82. Each is a journalistic gem within 'Paper Trails,' a collection of columns and magazine articles written by Dexter... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) during the 1970s and '80s when he worked for the Philadelphia Daily News and the Sacramento Bee. Some pieces in the collection also appeared in magazines such as Sports Illustrated and Esquire, although there's no way to tell when any of them was originally published. Dexter and his editor, Rob Fleder, agreed that nailing down the publication dates entailed more work than either cared to do. So in the introduction to 'Paper Trails,' Dexter writes that they opted to leave the stories dateless 'to avoid compromising the timelessness of these pieces.' That's Pete Dexter humor. And he's right. When the stories were published actually is irrelevant since they do pass the test of time. Many of the situations and behavior described in these stories don't seem, at first, out of the ordinary. They're the kind of everyday occurrences that you barely notice living in a city or checking into a hotel or just staring out your kitchen window. But Dexter, with his eye for detail and gift for recognizing the drama in daily living, changes the way we look at things. Long after reading 'Paper Trails,' you will remember the mother cat that was found shot, the female peacock's infatuation with the light on a trash compactor, a beautiful Appaloosa that dies and an indestructible 700-pound sow. Some of the stories, especially those with animal characters, are a hoot. But not all. Take, for instance, the one about the old black dog that got run over by a police car and left screaming with his back broken. The cop wouldn't finish him off, and he wouldn't give Dexter his gun so that he could finish him off. The dog died on his own. Dexter walked into the house looking for a place to throw up. But Dexter's rage really sears the pages when he writes about the brutal beating of a white guy — 'the closest thing to a lynching that has ever appeared on mass-market television' — and the acquittal of his black assailant by a Los Angeles jury. He takes you into the dispiriting world of a woman who worked for a Sacramento title company and let's you hear her tale of rape by a hot-shot 'All-American boy' real estate salesman — and how the crime went unpunished. You sit with Dexter in the living room with 'Louie the Dog Boy' and his mother and realize there is absolutely nothing ordinary or likable about Louie. 'Louie the Dog Boy says he is reformed,' writes Dexter. 'He doesn't have sexual intercourse with dogs anymore. Doesn't choke them or tie them up and beat them with sticks or make them fight each other like he used to, either. Or torture them with broomsticks.' Neighbors say he still does. You wish Dexter had not taken you there, but a little glad you came along, and even happier that you don't have to stay. Not so with the boxing ring, the race track and movie set that you leave knowing a lot more about those places and the people who work at jobs you would never dream of doing. When Dexter writes about his wife, who is referred to here only as 'Mrs. Dexter,' you sense a marital relationship that is different from the one he has put into words, and you suspect that Dexter wants you to know that, too. She's the perfect foil in his comic world, but it's obvious that, at least at the time the pieces were written, she was more than that to him. Dexter abandoned his brand of spellbinding journalism for much greener writing pastures, labor not driven by newspaper deadlines. His novels, including the National Book Award winner 'Paris Trout,' led the Los Angeles Times to describe him as 'the Faulkner of our time.' I'll leave that kind of judging to others. But for riveting storytelling and insight into people and circumstances that most of us either take for granted or can't see, 'Paper Trails' is what great newspaper writing is all about. Colbert King is a Washington Post columnist and winner of the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for commentary." Reviewed by Theola LabbiColbert King, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"Several of Dexter's columns pack a wallop, sometimes from the bizarre and violence-laden circumstances that they report, other times from Dexter's poignant or stark observations or his humor, which is sizable." Los Angeles Times
"This collection is ideal for journalism students, writers, and any book lover who appreciates a good story." Library Journal
"[Dextrer's] is a voice meant for the empty spaces of American life, the way Richard Ford was meant for New Jersey. It's best to read a few columns at a sitting, savoring each as its own self-sustaining organism." New York Times
"Pete Dexter makes it known with Paper Trails that he was born with talent, a master storyteller able to entertain and inform without resorting to sensationalism or affected emotion." San Francisco Chronicle
"Dexter's writing is compact, illuminating, sometimes hanging on a single word, sometimes thrilling with the unstated." Oregonian
"[A] winning book — the sort you keep around because it's good company and delivers the news in short powerful bursts....Paper Trails proves Dexter's best work on deadline deserves a longer life." Seattle Times
"Dexter's collection is a reminder of what the best city columnists do: Hit the pavement with sharp eyes, keen ears and a razor wit, then come back and reshape that world on the page. From craft, art. And something resembling truth, or what we can know of it." Denver Post
Filled with humor and wisdom, the brilliant first collection of Dexter's finest nonfiction chronicles his life and times.
About the Author
Pete Dexter is the author of the National Book Award-winning novel Paris Trout and five other novels: God's Pocket, Deadwood, Brotherly Love, The Paperboy, and Train. Dexter was born in Michigan and raised in Georgia, Illinois, and eastern South Dakota. He lives on an island off the coast of Washington.
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