Paris Trout by Pete Dexter

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Title: Paris Trout
Author: Pete Dexter
Genre: Contemporary fiction, crime fiction
Publisher: Penguin, 1988
Source: Library
Read for: Battle of the Prizes (American), Birth Year Challenge

Paris Trout is a relatively well-to-do, respected citizen. Yes, he is prone to his eccentricities. However, his store is a busy hive of business, his wife is beautiful, and his house is large. After calling in a debt goes rather horrendously wrong, Trout is left with a charge of manslaughter and two black women with bullets in their bodies. Over the next several years, dealing with this crime and determining Trout's guilt heightens the tension in their small town and drives Paris Trout to insanity.

This is the first National Book Award book I've read, I think ever (goes to check... nope, untrue. I've read Cold Mountain). I'm a big fan of the Pulitzer Prize, but for some reason the National Book Award winners don't have the same pull for me (although I did purchase a copy of Let the Great World Spin yesterday). While this book was fantastically well written, the story did not engage me and I closed the book with a nasty taste in my mouth.

I can't deny that Pete Dexter writes with panache. He has a knack of rendering situations with shattering starkness and clarity. I could visualize the scenes as if I'd been handed a photograph, and I felt that I knew the characters well. Their eccentricities, habits, and little daily gestures were articulately realized in creative language. I also thought Dexter dealt with racial issues in an interesting way, especially as he used Rosie, the young black girl Trout shoots, as the main voice for the inequalities experienced in the small town.

The story was very ugly. This makes sense - it is about an ugly crime committed by a deranged man. However, immersing myself in that ugliness is not how I usually choose to spend my time. It was disturbingly impressive, the way Trout slowly grows in paranoia and bizarreness until he is driven to commit crimes with increasing atrocity. At the beginning of the book, it was difficult to put down because I wasn't sure how people would react and what would be done about Trout's actions. However, as the story continued, it just became a downward spiral of Trout growing more and more corrupt.

The characters were also ugly (figuratively, not literally). While Paris Trout is the true criminal, they all commit ugly acts and are changed in a negative way by Trout's trial and ensuing madness. The only two characters I could at least partially like were Hanna Trout and Carl Bonner - Hanna for her kindness to Rosie at the beginning of the book and Bonner for his birds (an element of the story I found bizarre and fascinating). While Trout is the main agent in his escalating insanity, I think all the characters help to push him to the brink.

It is difficult for me to rate this story because my enjoyment of the book and the skill with which it was executed are completely disparate. I guess I should give it a 2.5, to be right in the middle. I didn't care for it, but it does paint a stark picture in an interesting way.


Warnings: language, sexuality, violence, sexual abuse

1 comment:

  1. The National Book Award winners often push the literary envelope, and for that reason they are often less accessible or enjoyable for me. They seem definitely more gritty overall. Of course art doesn't have to be "pretty" to be good, but it makes for a better read when it is. (Maybe.)

    At least you got the candle. :-)


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