There is a considerable amount of golf in "Train." One of the more remarkable minor characters in contemporary fiction, an ex-boxer named Plural, wanders through the pages of the novel, too. The presence of sports and athletes enabled me to call Pete Dexter and ask him to talk with me about his book on Only a Game. But it would be silly for anybody who hears the conversation or reads these lines to characterize "Train" as a sports book.
"Train" is as tight and tough a novel as I've read in years. Dexter writes by feel, letting remarkable scenes establish themselves without hurry. Some of them are grim, and some of them are laugh-out-loud funny, and none of them has a single note out of place. Nothing seems premeditated, but the story develops a terrible energy of its own. The reader finds himself thinking "nothing good can come of this," then putting off all the things he should be doing to find out what will happen next. Very soon after I finished reading Train, I went to a bookstore and bought another novel by Dexter.
One of the most remarkable features of "Train" is the language Pete Dexter finds or invents. When they speak, his characters and his narrator have nothing against standard grammar, unless it gets in the way of the poetry of their experiences, although if you were to accuse them of poetry, they'd look at you sideways. As Plural says about most of what goes on around him or in his head, "Sometime it just happens."
I don't know why I'd never read anything by Pete Dexter in the past. I'm very glad that I've made the acquaintance of his characters now. The discovery of a new pleasure is an occasion, and Dexter's writing is a pleasure indeed.
This program aired on January 17, 2004. The audio for this program is not available.