The Paperboy

The Paperboy

by Pete Dexter


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The sun was rising over Moat County, Florida, when Sheriff Thurmond Call was found on the highway, gutted like an alligator.  A local redneck was tried, sentenced, and set to fry.

Then Ward James, hotshot investigative reporter for the Miami Times, returns to his rural hometown with a death row femme fatale who promises him the story of the decade.  She's armed with explosive evidence, aiming to free—and meet—her convicted "fiancé."

With Ward's disillusioned younger brother Jack as their driver, they barrel down Florida's back roads and seamy places in search of The Story, racing flat out into a shocking head-on collision between character and fate as truth takes a back seat to headline news...

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385315722
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/01/1996
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 1,015,414
Product dimensions: 5.47(w) x 8.46(h) x 0.66(d)

About the Author

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.

Read an Excerpt

ON A COLD WINTER MORNING four years later, early in 1969—in the same year my brother would blossom as a journalist—I lost my swimming scholarship at the University of Florida.  A few weeks afterward, I was expelled for an act of vandalism.

Specifically, I drank a small bottle of vodka and drained the swimming pool, which, while childish, is more complicated work than it may seem from the outside.  I don't want to get into the mechanics of it now, but let me assure you that you don't just pull the plug.

I returned home, ashamed, and went to work at my father's newspaper, the Moat County Tribune, driving a delivery truck.

My father never asked what had happened to me in Gainesville, or if I intended to go back, but it was clear that he meant for me to drive the truck until I saw it was this life's one alternative to a college education.

He was not formally educated himself, and often spoke of he fact as if it were something lost.  "Lord, I would have loved to study literature," he would say, as if he needed permission from a college to read books.

All that winter and spring I drove the north route for the Tribune, traveling 325 miles over the narrow, mostly shoulderless two-lane roads of northern Moat County.  I loaded the truck in the dark, passing the sign marking Thorn's city limits by three-thirty in the morning.

Each morning at nine o'clock, if the truck didn't break own and the press runs were on time, I came to the clearing where Sheriff Call's car had been found. The spot was partially hidden from the road—a baked, treeless circle cut to a stand of pines, a picnic table and two outdoor toilets no more than twenty feet apart, the men's to the east, the Ladies' to the west.  A marker indicated the spot where the best school in the state had once stood, and a hand-painted gun attached to one of the privies showed a Confederate flag and a hand unconnected to any arm, and across these pages the legend MOAT COUNTY EXTENDS A WELCOME HAND TO YANKEES !

Fifteen miles down the road was my last stop of the day—ten papers that I was required to place facedown on a makeshift wooden table just behind the gum ball machines inside sun-faded country store run by an indeterminate number of members of the Van Wetter family, who did not want their patrons met with bad news as they came in the door.

What specific blood connection these Van Wetters had to the man Sheriff Call stomped to death, I do not know.  The Van Wetters occupied half a column of the Moat County telephone book and their children rarely married outside the family.  Calculating the collateral relations was beyond me, even if the Van Wetters had been inclined to discuss their family tree, which they were not.

I can only tell you that some mornings an old man was there, blind and freshly angry, as if the blindness had come over him in the night.  He would make his way to the papers I had brought and count them, moving the folded edges up into the palm of his hand with his fingers, as if he were tickling them, his face scowling up into the window like a sour plant growing to light.  And some mornings it was his wife.

Other times there was a young, pregnant woman with the most beautiful skin I had ever seen, whose children would run through a curtain and into the back when I came into the store.

This woman never looked up, but a moment after the children had disappeared, a man whose face had been burned—whose skin creased at his eye like a badly ironed shirt—would emerge from the curtain and stand a foot inside the room, his hands at his sides, watching until I had stacked the papers and left.

Once, when I had forgotten to collect for the week, I went back into the store and found him still standing where I'd left him, staring at her as she straightened boxes of candy bars in the case under the counter.

She looked at me then, for an instant, and it was as if I'd brought some bad news beyond what was in my newspapers.

It was possible, I think, that anytime the door opened it was bad news for her.

I never heard her speak to the man with the burned face, I'd I never heard him speak to her.  I assumed they were man and wife.

I WOULD FINISH THE ROUTE before ten, park the truck, walk the six blocks home, and fall into bed with a beer and a copy of the newspaper I had been delivering all morning.  Early in the afternoon, I would slip away from the stories in the paper into a jumpy sleep, full of dreams, waking up a few hours later in this, the same room where I had slept all the nights of my childhood, not knowing where I was.

Something like that had been happening at Gainesville too, and sometimes in those moments between dreams and consciousness, when I was lost, I glimpsed myself as untied to either place.

I would get out of bed then and walk to the city pool and swim laps.  Or, when I could borrow my father's truck—he kept his new Chrysler in the driveway and left the garage for a beloved twelve-year-old Ford pickup which he used only to go fishing—I drove north to St. Augustine and would swim out into the ocean a mile or more, until my arms and legs were dead weight, and then slowly, allowing the water to hold me up, I would turn and make my way back.

I threw myself away and was returned intact to the beach, and in this way I was somehow saved from those moments it had taken, fresh from sleep, to recognize the room where my most private thoughts had been thought, and private courses set, for all my life.  The walls of my childhood.

You could say I was afraid to sleep.

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Paperboy 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
bnbookgirl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book took me a while to get into, but, I am glad I stuck with it. It revolves around crime, a news story, and an unpredictable group of characters. The news story comes to fruition, the big prize is won, but not without dire consequences. This book requires staying power, but, the ending is really worth the journey. I enjoyed Dexter's book, Paris Trout much more than this one, but, this book is definately worth reading.
Iralell on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Something haunting about this book. Maybe it's the dead on portrayals of flawed human beings. I read a review that said Pete Dexter's characters really stick with you, and they do. They're drawn in short but revealing strokes. I was left with the impression, however, that one of the reasons they'll stick with me is that so many things were left unresolved in their stories. They nag at me like the feeling that I forgot to pack underwear for a long trip does.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Like the other Peter Dexter books the characters would in the real world or should in the real world be in serious long term therapy. Dexter makes them fascinating and aggravating. His powers of observation and narrative are fascinating and keeps me riveted to find out whats going on in the book and how he tells it; in a measured pace that is similar to getting to know characters in real life, bit by bit, and completely compelling.
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Britt_IA More than 1 year ago
If not for the word, "bizarre", I wouldn't know what else to call it. I finished it because I was engaged in the beginning, but soon lost touch with the addition of complex characters and lack of character building. I admit, I'm interested to see how the movie translates.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I absolutely loved this book. I was sucked in to it, by the very first page. It is a must read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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