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  • Written by Pete Dexter
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List Price: $9.99


On Sale: February 01, 2005
Pages: 0 | ISBN: 978-1-4000-9632-9
Published by : Vintage Knopf
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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.



January, 1948

At this point in the story, Packard had never fallen in love, and didn't trust what he'd heard of the lingo (forever, my darling, with all my heart, till the end of time, more than life itself, with every fiber of my being, oh my darling Clementine, etc.). It sounded out of control to him, and messy.

He had spent maybe a thousand Sundays in church, though--make that four hundred--and then two edgy years on a battleship in the Pacific Ocean, and then five very edgy days in the Pacific Ocean without the battleship, and before any of that, he'd deliberately and often put himself in places where he saw awful things happen not only to people who deserved it, but also to people who just seemed to stumble in at the wrong time, walking into the picture as the shutter clicked through no fault of their own.

Which is to say that by now Packard recognized praying when he heard it, and knew the kind of the deals people would offer up, the promises they would make, when they were in over their heads. And that, from what he'd heard, was what it--love--was about.

Later on, however, something in the feminine line in fact came along, custom-fit, and Packard, to his enormous surprise, found himself ape-shit in tow. Although not every-fiber-of-my-being ape-shit in tow. Of long habit, Packard only gave in quietly, without losing his dignity.

And much later on, when he was tamed and had the advantages of maturity and the long view, he would come to realize that everything that had happened was inevitable, that he was after all a human being, and it was therefore not in his nature to keep things simple.

Even the psychologist who did the pre-employment interview had seen something on Packard's horizon.

"Perhaps," he said, "you need someone to share this with."

Packard had just described for the psychologist not his loveless life but his battleship, the Indianapolis, burning to the waterline in the night, and the days and nights of floating around in the Pacific Ocean with the sharks and burned and dying shipmates. The sharks came morning and evening, at meal time, and stayed about as long as it would take you to eat dinner. Packard to this day did not eat at regular hours, but aside from that, on the occasions when he asked himself how he felt, he felt approximately like the same person.

People he'd known before the war, on the other hand, said he'd changed, but he couldn't see it himself. As his grandmother had pointed out along time ago, he wasn't a real sweetheart to begin with.

Packard, by the way, had not brought any of this up to the psychologist himself. All he wanted was a job, and all the psychologist wanted was to keep his job, and he was required by the city's insurers to review applicants' military records and inquire specifically in regard to purple hearts.

The psychologist had a certain baritone manner that made Packard want to slap him, and he sat beneath his diplomas in a cheap suit, absently listening to an abbreviated history of Packard's war-time adventues, pinching his chin, making fifteen-dollar-an-hour dimples and grunts. He nodded from time to time, as if he'd heard it all before.

Then, when the half hour was over, he said, "Perhaps you need someone to share this with."

But it was all a dance anyway. War heroes could get work at any fire department they wanted.

Before this, right after the war, Packard had run into a nun in a bar in San Diego. The kind that didn't talk, although she did play the English horn. She'd given that up, though--her vows, not the horn--and was on the way to Philadelphia, trying to make up for lost time. He was given to understand the city had quite a symphony orchestra.

Packard was not by nature an optimist, but it was encouraging, coming home to America and being fucked half to death night and day for a month, but even in all the confusion and maneuvering--she seemed to expect him to bend back over himself, the way her horn bent--Packard became gradually aware that he was no closer to the girl than he'd been all the other bodies, alive and dead, that he'd been around since he left home.

So he got closer for a little while, and the spent twice that long getting farther away. He stayed in Philadelphia, though, and thought he might never leave.

He loved the Italian neighborhoods; the Irish he could take or leave. He loved the baseball, and the movement of the city--the Mummers and the restaurants and the clubs. He snuck off once in a while to the art museum when he was looking for women. He even went once to the symphony orchestra, thinking she might throw him a bone for old times sake, but she wasn't there in the horn section, and he guessed she hadn't practiced enough at the convent to make the cut.

The city, though, was crawling with life. At least it had been then. Lately, it was slower.

Lately, he'd lie in bed after a fire, naked, hawking up soot, his eyes stinging, lying in the smell of smoke and sweat and rubber, and see himself being walled in. Something was building around him, always at the same numbing crawl, walling him in. He witnessed this phenomenon from a familiar, removed perspective--from his earliest memory, he'd had a facility to see himself from a distance. Sometimes when he thought about it, it seemed like he'd been someplace else watching himself for most of his life.

He'd been in the department two years now, and was already famous for the chances he took. The feeling afterwards wasn't the same as it had been in the beginning, though. By now, in fact, there was no feeling afterwards. He was disconnected.

And so, needing a hobby, Packard became a runner.

Here was Packard's training schedule: Midnight, he would walk into a neighborhood where he did not belong, say Kensington or the Devil's Pocket. He'd sit down in a bar, order a beer, and insult one of the locals. The easiest way to insult one was to use a word he didn't understand. Avuncular, bulbous, crescendo. Say the word avuncular, the next thing you know, fifteen of them had bats and were chasing you down the street, screaming kill the queer.

And the beauty part, as they said in the Pocket, was that they meant it. If they caught you, you were dead. Packard, however, was in excellent shape and undefeated, and eventually went looking for better competition.

Packard had his hands in his jacket, feeling around for his keys, when he noticed the car. His pockets were full of his regular stuff--change, matches, a couple of weiners for the dog, loose cigarettes, rubbers that had fallen out of a vending machine in a bar down on Race Street in Chinatown when he'd pulled the lever for Alka Seltzer. The dog was a stray, all mange and scabs with hideous black tits and a fifty-pound head. She didn't want to be touched, and Packard didn't want to touch her; it was enough for them both just to hand over the weiners. One when he left his place, one when he came back. The dog would bare her teeth before she accepted it--reminding him of the rules--and then swallow it whole. It wasn't much, but the truth was it felt better the next morning than it had with the nun.

The dog wasn't around tonight, and Packard had a sudden, unsettled premonition, that something had happened, that she wasn't coming back. He was loyal, even if he hadn't been a real sweetheart to start with.

It was snowing, and the whole city had stopped. The neighborhood streets were narrow and clogged with cars, some of them packed to the windows by the snow plows, some high centered or simply stuck in ice ruts and left in their own tracks. Earlier in the winter a fire burned half a block in Tasker Homes before the trucks could even get to the houses. Four dead, trapped and innocent of everything except not having money to heat the apartment. At least that night, they were.

Packard looked again at the car, knowing who it was. He stood motionless, the dog still on his mind, trying to focus, trying to get the moment to hold still and feel it. Nothing.

The snow was filthy and wet and black all around him. Traction could be a problem. He'd left his car on South Street tonight and walked back to the apartment from a pool hall. He had tennis shoes on and his feet were freezing. Where would the dog be, a night like this?

He'd gone into the place with a ten dollar bill, bought a beer and gotten into a fifty-dollar game of nine ball, knowing what could happen, but all night long he couldn't lose on purpose, and ended up six hundred ahead, and then spent a hundred of it buying drinks and tipping. He'd gotten himself a little drunk.

The car windows were fogged--that was the first thing he noticed--then a faint glow inside as one of them lit a cigarette. Then, at two o'clock in the morning in South Philadelphia, standing outside on the coldest night of the year, he suddenly felt alone.

A minute later they were out of the car, one of them with a crowbar, the other with a bat. They wore loafers and leather caps and long, camel-hair coats, and slipped on the ice as they separated and then closed in. There was no reason for them to hurry, though. Packard didn't want a head start.

The younger one, who still had the cigarette in his mouth, came in a wide circle around a puddle frozen over with ice and then found himself behind another, smaller puddle. He hesitated a moment and then jumped, skidded when he hit the sidewalk, and went into the air backwards, turning as he fell like a child who decides too late that he doesn't want to go down the slide. Then he hit, and lay still a moment and the crowbar rang on the cement.

"Albert, for Christ's sake," the older one said, "you'll wake up the whole neighborhood."

He came up off the sidewalk slowly, holding his knee, limping and furious, and wiped at the dirt on his coat. Then he picked up the crowbar and began to beat it against the parking meter, slipping half off his feet again as he swung.

"All right, Albert," the man said, "that's enough."

And the kid stopped.

The man looked at Packard almost apologetically. Packard had seen him a few times before--he was not from this neighborhood, but was from some neighborhood, somebody who'd come up the old way, got his nose spread a few times, his ears lopped, and made something of himself in the business. Packard noticed that he'd spent some money on his shoes--Packard knew clothes and shoes, especially shoes--and nothing on his teeth. The locals had called the man Mr. Bambi when they told Packard that he'd been around looking for him. "You're a nice guy, Packard," they said, "pay him his money."

It was eleven hundred dollars and they'd been after him for six, seven weeks, and at that moment Packard could have written a good check for eleven hundred dollars five hundred times in a row. One of his great-grandfathers had invented tire tread, and nobody in the family had worked for a living since. Packard had been connected to money all his life.

Mr. Bambi stood beneath the street lamp, casting a gorilla's shadow across the cement. The shadow looked healthier than Mr. Bambi did--younger, and you couldn't see his teeth.

"You don't mind my asking," he said, "what was the plan?"

That was the question, all right. What was the plan?

"Fuck, Mr. Bambi," the kid said, "I tink I bwoke my leg."

Packard had seen the kid before too, hanging around with his friends, always in new clothes, combing his greasy hair over and over, talking to girls who never even looked up. The kid had lost an index finger somewhere in his travels, and sometimes stuck the stub in his nose for the girls as they walked by. And still they didn't pay attention.

Go figure women, right?

"What do you say we go inside where it's warm," Mr. Bambi said, "take care of this like gentlemen." He sounded like a reasonable man.

The kid was still limping around, holding his knee. "He tinks he's got a bwoken leg," Packard said. "Maybe you should take him to the hospital."

Hearing that Packard was laughing at him, the kid ran at him with his eyes closed, swinging the crowbar at his head. Packard took a step backwards and fell into Mr. Bambi, who was surprised and stumbled and then pushed him away. It wasn't an angry push, though, in some way he was still asking if they couldn't all just be reasonable.

Then they closed in, the kid feinting with the crowbar, Mr. Bambi coming straight on, looking resigned, and Packard waited until the kid closed his eyes and swung again and went right past him and up the sidewalk.

He ran flat-footed for traction, and it felt slower this way but he could heard them behind him and knew where they were, and could tell by the ragged breathing that they were not used to running. He slowed down, not wanting to lose them yet, and led them a block like that, the kid yelling bloody murder, Mr. Bambi not wasting his air, just trying to keep up.

Another block and Packard heard them slow and stop. He stopped too, grabbed his knee, imitating the kid. "Fuck, Mr. Bambi, I tink I bwoke my leg."

They came after him again, balls out, and he ran ahead, running easily, feeling light and happy, crossing the street.

He thought he'd been hit by a car. One second he was there, the next second he wasn't. Then there was a blur of mange and teeth somewhere on the edge of his vision. It brought to mind the night he was lifted out of his bunk in the Pacific. But there were no lights now, no sound except the footsteps behind him, only the animal's terrible breath before she closed down on the junction of his neck and shoulder.

She was still mauling him when they caught up; it seemed like a long time. They stood there a while with their hands on their knees, catching their breath, watching, and then the kid stepped forward with the crowbar over his head, but Mr. Bambi was looking at the strange turns Packard's leg took as it lay in the snow, and stopped him. He watched a little longer and then kicked her away. He winked at Packard and held off the boy.

From the Hardcover edition.
Pete Dexter

About Pete Dexter

Pete Dexter - Train
Pete Dexter is the author of the National Book Award–winning novel Paris Trout as well as Spooner, Paper Trails, God’s Pocket, Deadwood, Brotherly Love, and Train. He has been a columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News and the Sacramento Bee, and has contributed to many magazines, including Esquire, Sports Illustrated, and Playboy. His screenplays include Rush and Mulholland Falls. Dexter was born in Michigan and raised in Georgia, Illinois, and eastern South Dakota. He lives on an island off the coast of Washington.


“Extraordinary.... This masterful book is such a formidable achievement, it creates its own frame of reference. Other writers must now be measured against Pete Dexter.” — San Francisco Chronicle

“Dexter is a superb writer. . . . The narrative flows and weaves, dips and dances like a boxer in a championship bout.” — The Oregonian

“Spectacular, explosive...Mythic, comic and tragic, Train yields a treasure trove of harsh human wisdom.” — St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“With an exhilarating crime novel that mixes race, sex, murder–and yes, golf–Pete Dexter hits a hole in one.” --Newsweek

“A beautiful, stomach-churning novel, full of graphic descriptions and brutal plot turns. . . . Dexter's dark, hypnotic writing is in top form.” — The Plain Dealer

"Riveting. . . . Brilliantly observed and psychologically incisive. . . . Confirms Dexter's place as the most lapidary American prose stylist since Hemingway." --The Philadelphia Inquirer

“Chilling. . . . Haunting. . . . Dexter’s writing is a living thing.” --USA Today

"Dexter gets violence on paper with a harsh precision, and the pages turn with a potboiler's fleetness. When the final boom rumbles, readers are likely to be up well past their bedtimes." --The New York Times Book Review

"Disturbingly magnificent. . . . As brutal as anything James Ellroy has rolled out. . . . Dexter crawls inside his characters to peel back the darkest ids." --Los Angeles Times Book Review

"Memorable. . . . Stylish and sinewy. . . . Dexter is an irresistibly fluid and engaging writer." --Newsday

“The strength of the novel lies far beyond its noirish setting or graphic plot twists. It is rather in Dexter's assured and direct handling of the ever-tangled subject of how ordinary people try to ford the nation's racial divide in pursuit of, or in flight from, deeper human truths.” --Washington Post Book World

"Utterly gripping. . . . A superbly written book. . . . Illuminated by vivid flashes of humor and humanity. . . . Cunningly structured for maximum impact." --The Economist

"Taut, tight and unrelenting, this is Dexter's best novel since his National Book Award-winning Paris Trout. . . . . It's mean, tough, tender, and emotionally, and conceptually, highly charged." --Houston Chronicle

“Visceral, like a punch to the gut. . . . A gutty, gritty gem of a novel. . . . Dexter masterfully builds the suspense and each unwholesome character bounces off the other as the novel wends toward denouement. . . . This is Dexter in top noir form, as only he can pull it off.” --The Denver Post

"Exquisite, painful. . . . He's the Faulkner of our time; just when you've passed judgment on a character, Dexter pulls the rug out from under you. . . . . You think you understand fear and race? Read Train." --Los Angeles Times

“Brilliant. . . . A strange and riveting book.” --San Jose Mercury News

"Engrossing. . . . It's easy to get lost in Dexter's beautifully constructed sentences. Their attention to detail, their careful rhythms and brutal observations make Train satisfying to read. . . . It revels in its hardboiled dialogue and Chandleresque cadences, its sudden violence and cheeky humor." --Fort Worth Star-Telegram

"Extreme noir. . . . Dexter's prose is muscular, dead-pan, hard-boiled." --Seattle Post-Intelligencer

"Don't expect some triumph-of-the-underdog sports story. . . . Dexter's vision of golf as a stark, brutal confrontation-with-self is unlike anything depicted on a sports page. . . . In his lean, powerful style, [he] digs into the complex dangers of race and love. And anyone who expects Dexter to keep it simple might as well tell the cat not to eat the birds." --The Miami Herald

"Takes the reader on a mesmerizing ride aboard a fast-moving Train." --The Orlando Sentinel

"Dexter's novels . . . tend to inhabit thriller country, but their dark lyricism and an inspired disregard for traditional plot carry them beyond this generic territory. . . . Dexter's skill resides in keeping an atmosphere of menace close to the surface at all times, so that violent collision of the worlds surrounding Packard seems inevitable." --The New Yorker

"Compelling. . . . Raw. . . . Train is the work of an American master at the top of his game." --Elle (Reader's Prize)

"Powerful. . . . In Packard, Dexter has created a flawed tough-guy hero, 'the kind of man who would hurt you'--yet one who transcends the hard-boiled-thriller model with his uncommon sensitivity to others' emotions and a self-awareness that his romantic idealism will probably lead to his own ruin. Grade: A." --Entertainment Weekly

"Dexter is a skilled writer who knows how to set the scene." --Pittsburg Post-Gazette

"Its period [are] details searing, its shifts of mood as remorseless as the Santa Ana wind." --Daily News

"Quick-witted, muscular and to the point. . . . The characters are tough, the words tougher." --The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"Superb. . . . Taut. . . . Rich in imagery." --People

"Intense and moving. . . . Dexter shows the light in the human soul mostly by contrasting it with the dark. . . . [Train] contains plenty of scenes of brutality and violence, but also passages of beauty and tenderness and clarity." --Philadelphia Magazine

"Pete Dexter fans, rejoice: The wait is over. . . . He writes with an accuracy and power that leave you wishing the book were longer." --The Dallas Morning News
Reader's Guide|About the Book|Author Biography|Discussion Questions|Suggestions

About the Book

“Extraordinary. . . . This masterful book is such a formidable achievement, it creates its own frame of reference. Other writers must now be measured against Pete Dexter.” —San Francisco Chronicle

The introduction, discussion questions, suggested reading list, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your group’s discussion about Pete Dexter’s Train. We hope they will provide useful ways of thinking and talking about this gripping, provocative new novel from the author of the National Book Award–winning Paris Trout.

About the Guide

In Los Angeles, 1953, Brookside is the most luxurious golf course in town. The grass is green, the golfers are white, and the caddies are black. Lionel Walk—called Train—is a seventeen-year-old caddie who has an extraordinary talent for the game. His mother has a new lover who beats Train’s beloved dog as a way of trying to get Train to move out of the house. Train struggles to make a living, and tries to stay on the good side of Sweet, who assigns caddies their “totes” for the day. But when Sweet is implicated in a brutal crime that brings police investigators to Brookside, Train and the rest of the caddies are fired. Homeless and out of work, Train takes up with Plural Lincoln, a sweet-natured ex-boxer, and soon finds work at the dusty golf course attached to an ill-fated housing development. Miller Packard, a rich gambler and police sergeant with a taste for danger, soon begins to bet on Train, traveling with him to matches against golf hustlers across America. Packard invites Train and Plural to live in his guest cottage, but his wife Norah is uneasy with this situation, having been raped by Sweet and Arthur, who worked at Brookside and murdered her first husband in a botched robbery on their yacht. Now enmeshed with the fragile Norah and the reckless Packard, Train and Plural find trouble close at hand.

With his trademark economy of style, Dexter brings these characters to life in their most vulnerable moments, stripping away words and manners until all that is left is the basic human pulse.

About the Author

Pete Dexter is the author of the National Book Award winner Paris Trout and of God’s Pocket, Deadwood, Brotherly Love, and The Paperboy. He was born in Michigan and raised in Georgia, Illinois, and eastern South Dakota. He lives on Puget Sound, Washington.

Discussion Guides

1. The narrator tells us that even before Miller Packard spent five days in the ocean after the sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis, “he’d deliberately and often put himself in places where he saw awful things happen not only to people who deserved it but also to people who just seemed to stumble in at the wrong time” [p. 1]. Packard has a taste for provoking violence even before the nightmare of sharks in the Pacific, even before his leg is nearly destroyed in an attack by a dog [pp. 7–8]. Why is he addicted to violence, and how does the reader respond to this aspect of his

2. While Packard’s habit of seeing himself “from a distance” [p. 3] suggests that he experiences what psychologists call dissociation, Train experiences something similar when he kills Mayflower with the leg of a chair: “It was still in his hand when [his mother] come back to the house and saw him in the kitchen, and saw what he’d done” [p. 91]. Train is consistently shown to be a character with a gentle and cautious nature; what makes him lose control and kill Mayflower? Does Dexter suggest that his characters are at the mercy of events that are simply unbearable?

3. Consider the way Dexter presents the characters’ thoughts or self-expression. Train and Plural have much greater interiority than Packard and Norah. Their emotional lives are not only more fully imagined but also more accessible through the narrative point of view. Why has Dexter delivered his characters in this way; why do the black characters evoke more sympathy than the white ones?

4. “From his earliest memory,” Packard’d “had a facility to see himself from a distance. Sometimes when he thought about it, it seemed like he’d been someplace else, watching himself, for most of his life” [p. 3]. Train calls Packard the “Mile Away Man.” How does this aspect of Packard’s character affect his relationship with Train? With Norah? Is he a man who wants to connect, but can’t?

5. Why does Packard give Train the money that is supposedly for Florida’s widow? Why does he make a bet with the fat man that “Mr. Walk here does the right thing” [p. 29]? By giving the money to Sweet, does Train show that he’s too innocent for the world he finds himself in?

6. What are the main events in the novel’s plot, and is there a clear climax? What kinds of episodes create suspense? Weigh the exploration of character against the narrative passages. Which is more predominant? Does one element seem more important in the novel than the other?

7. All four of the main characters in the novel—Packard, Norah, Train, and Plural—are capable of unpredictable outbursts of violence. What is Dexter suggesting about the nature of violent action—what provokes it, how is it controlled, and when do internal controls break down?

8. Why does Packard befriend Train? Does he do so out of generosity and interest, or with a view to making money from Train’s talent? Considering that Packard takes most of the money that they win, is he simply exploiting Train?

9. A major part of Train is about the love between Norah and Packard. The novel opens with the words, “At this point in the story, Packard had never fallen in love, and didn’t trust what he’d heard of the lingo. . . . It sounded out of control to him, and messy” [p. 1]. What draws them to love each other, and what drives them apart, finally?

10. How is Norah like the women in the crime fiction of writers like Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, and how is she different? Early on, she is presented as a woman who relies on men: “One way or another, men had been trying to protect her or save her all her life. She brought that out in them, even after she had stopped trying” [p. 56]. Does she change throughout the course of the story? How does her final act in the novel relate to this statement?

11. Dexter has chosen Los Angeles, circa 1953, as the setting for his novel. What details make the setting come alive? How does the background of racial tension make itself felt in the setting?

12. The wife of the owner of Paradise Developments, susan “no capital S” [p. 108], puts together an exhibit of images of black men she calls “Images from the Working Life” [p. 116] which includes pictures of two men hacking each other to death. How does her sexual exploitation of Train and other black men contribute to the story’s insistence on a clear-eyed view of racism? How does her sexual predation relate to Arthur and Sweet’s rape of Norah?

13. Plural is perhaps the most surprising character in the story. What elements contribute to Plural’s charm and strangeness? Is he, too, in certain scenes, a frighteningly unpredictable person? Is he, at least at times, insane?

14. Given the breakdown of the relationship between Packard and Norah after Norah becomes pregnant, has Dexter created a situation in which the reader expects a disastrous ending? If so, what elements have gone into making the final scene one that is—however shocking—not unexpected? Is it clear what happens to Packard at the end?

15. Plural says to Train, “The world is a hungry place, man. . . . And whatever kind of thing you is, there’s something out there that likes to eat it. It’s natural. That’s how the world keeps tidy” [p. 240]. Might this statement be considered a summary of the novel’s pessimistic worldview? And if so, is there any hope for survival?

16. Dexter has been highly praised as a prose stylist; he is also skilled at giving his characters unique voices. Choose a few passages that exhibit the virtuosity of his writing and discuss what makes them stand out.

17. What genre of fiction does this book inhabit? Is it classifiable as a crime novel in the noir style, as a novel about race and racism, or as a psychological thriller, or is it something unique?

Suggested Readings

James Baldwin, Another Country; James M. Cain, The Postman Always Rings Twice; Raymond Chandler, Farewell, My Lovely; Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man; William Faulkner, Go Down, Moses; F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby; Richard Ford, Women with Men; Ernest J. Gaines, A Lesson Before Dying; Dashiell Hammett, The Glass Key; Chester Himes, A Rage in Harlem; Dennis Lehane, Mystic River; Richard Price, Samaritan.

  • Train by Pete Dexter
  • February 01, 2005
  • Fiction - Literary
  • Vintage
  • $14.00
  • 9780375714092

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