Daily Archives: January 9, 2011

PARIS TROUT / Pete Dexter

PARIS TROUT / Pete Dexter. 1988 (306 pgs)

First Ten Pages =  3.27% of total book

First Sentence:  “In the spring of that year an epidemic of rabies broke out in Ether County, Georgia.”

Prevailing Narrative Voice:  Third person. Past tense. No deviation.

What the reader learns in the first paragraphs: The reader learns of a rabies epidemic “that spring,” but doesn’t learn which year. The reader is told that the setting is a county in rural Georgia that suggests it might put one to sleep. From the first six words the reader should conclude that the story is set in the significant past. Contemporary people don’t talk in terms of seasons. They delineate time in much smaller packets, like Facebook entries. The reader is then told that seventy foxes were killed, twelve were rabid, but nobody contracted the disease…except an old man named Woodrow and a fourteen-year-old girl named Rosie Sayers. Both from “The Bottoms.” Part one of the story features Rosie Sayers. This information is economically narrated in four brief paragraphs. Economy will be a guiding principal of the entire story.

What the reader learns in the first ten pages:  The reader is offered a considerable amount of information in the first ten pages, most of it following the narrative of Rosie being sent into town by her mother to purchase bullets from Paris Trout’s store. The bullets are for her mother’s guest – a sportsman – but are lost when Rosie is bitten by a rabid fox. Without any money, she returns to Trout’s store to replace the bullets, introducing the misshapen concept that a white man will solve a black man’s dilemma, a theme that resonates tragically throughout the story. Paris Trout shows her no kindness, and none to the clerk in his store who insists on taking Rosie to the clinic for her wounds.

Language: The narrative voice is established with the opening sentence and carried faithfully through to the last line of the story. The story contains nine sections named after five of the major characters, yet no character is favored above another. The narrative voice remains equally detached. Dexter portrays social and class differences through the words his characters choose, but without minimizing the spoken dialogue into written slang. Privileged white characters communicate with educated ease and are represented by how they speak. Those who believe they have entitlement over another because of race or circumstances represent accordingly. The black characters living on the outskirts of town down by the saw mill speak a minimized English that speaks to the point and removes pretense. On the page each character uses words from the same vocabulary. How they are arranged sharply defines character and illuminates intent.

Dexter begins this story with a broad narrative event – a rabies situation – then focuses on a girl affected by this broad narrative event. When Dexter slows the broad telling of events to focus on a simple dialogue conversation it is a catalytic one that resonates throughout the remaining story.

He came out of the dark, it reminded her of a ghost. He glowed tall and white. “What is it?” he said.

“Bullets,” she said.

“Speak up, girl.”

“Twenty-two bullets,” she said.

Firearms and entitlement are crucial elements to Dexter’s story. The first conversation that occurs in real, spoken time is one about buying bullets and creates an echo the reader won’t hear until further along.

Setting: In the same way that familiar nuances cue a reader into a Western story or a New York City setting, the reader quickly understands they are the Deep South with ingrained social delineations. The Bottoms. The dusty, sunken road behind the sawmill. “The white people stores were empty.” A nurse who spends more time washing her own hands than cleaning Rosie’s wounds. These do not precisely represent locality, and yet these places and actions are standard clues to an obvious social setting. Where they live engrains how they live.

Character:  The reader learns of Paris Trout through his actions. Paris Trout never explains or defends. It is a leading characteristic of this story that even when people do unusual things, the narration offers very little in the way of defense as if action is its own defense.

Structure (Rhythm, Tension):  Huge waves of emotional and sexual tension are created and discharged in the course of this story. Each of the characters – except Paris Trout –believes they can separate themselves from injustice by following the accepted order – the way things are supposed to be done. This pretense is the undoing of each character, except Paris Trout. He is a man without guilt and there is only one way. Trout’s way.

Thematic Preamble: PARIS TROUT begins without preamble and places the reader immediately in the story. Nothing is said at the beginning to soften what will happen to these characters and demands that the reader draw difficult conclusions at each turn of events.

Foreshadowing, Plot & Expectations beyond page ten: This reader expected a hero to emerge. One doesn’t. What emerges alternatively is how we are a society based on association and agreement. The black citizens in particular understand and do their best not to step outside prescribed boundaries. It is generally ignorance – an affliction of all the characters regardless of social strata – that brings someone down.

Random Comments: This is a troubling story. The book jacket suggests that PARIS TROUT will “probably interfere with your sleep.” It didn’t. It interfered with my entire day.

Leave a comment

Filed under first10pages review