In the latest issue:

Real Men Go to Tehran

Adam Shatz

What Trump doesn’t know about Iran

Patrick Cockburn

Kaiser Karl V

Thomas Penn

The Hostile Environment

Catherine Hall

Social Mobilities

Adam Swift

Short Cuts: So much for England

Tariq Ali

What the jihadis left behind

Nelly Lahoud

Ray Strachey

Francesca Wade

C.J. Sansom

Malcolm Gaskill

At the British Museum: ‘Troy: Myth and Reality’

James Davidson

Poem: ‘The Lion Tree’

Jamie McKendrick

SurrogacyTM

Jenny Turner

Boys in Motion

Nicholas Penny

‘Trick Mirror’

Lauren Oyler

Diary: What really happened in Yancheng?

Long Ling

Going PostalZachary Leader
Close

Terms and Conditions

These terms and conditions of use refer to the London Review of Books and the London Review Bookshop website (www.lrb.co.uk — hereafter ‘LRB Website’). These terms and conditions apply to all users of the LRB Website ("you"), including individual subscribers to the print edition of the LRB who wish to take advantage of our free 'subscriber only' access to archived material ("individual users") and users who are authorised to access the LRB Website by subscribing institutions ("institutional users").

Each time you use the LRB Website you signify your acceptance of these terms and conditions. If you do not agree, or are not comfortable with any part of this document, your only remedy is not to use the LRB Website.


  1. By registering for access to the LRB Website and/or entering the LRB Website by whatever route of access, you agree to be bound by the terms and conditions currently prevailing.
  2. The London Review of Books ("LRB") reserves the right to change these terms and conditions at any time and you should check for any alterations regularly. Continued usage of the LRB Website subsequent to a change in the terms and conditions constitutes acceptance of the current terms and conditions.
  3. The terms and conditions of any subscription agreements which educational and other institutions have entered into with the LRB apply in addition to these terms and conditions.
  4. You undertake to indemnify the LRB fully for all losses damages and costs incurred as a result of your breaching these terms and conditions.
  5. The information you supply on registration to the LRB Website shall be accurate and complete. You will notify the LRB promptly of any changes of relevant details by emailing the registrar. You will not assist a non-registered person to gain access to the LRB Website by supplying them with your password. In the event that the LRB considers that you have breached the requirements governing registration, that you are in breach of these terms and conditions or that your or your institution's subscription to the LRB lapses, your registration to the LRB Website will be terminated.
  6. Each individual subscriber to the LRB (whether a person or organisation) is entitled to the registration of one person to use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site. This user is an 'individual user'.
  7. The London Review of Books operates a ‘no questions asked’ cancellation policy in accordance with UK legislation. Please contact us to cancel your subscription and receive a full refund for the cost of all unposted issues.
  8. Use of the 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is strictly for the personal use of each individual user who may read the content on the screen, download, store or print single copies for their own personal private non-commercial use only, and is not to be made available to or used by any other person for any purpose.
  9. Each institution which subscribes to the LRB is entitled to grant access to persons to register on and use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site under the terms and conditions of its subscription agreement with the LRB. These users are 'institutional users'.
  10. Each institutional user of the LRB may access and search the LRB database and view its entire contents, and may also reproduce insubstantial extracts from individual articles or other works in the database to which their institution's subscription provides access, including in academic assignments and theses, online and/or in print. All quotations must be credited to the author and the LRB. Institutional users are not permitted to reproduce any entire article or other work, or to make any commercial use of any LRB material (including sale, licensing or publication) without the LRB's prior written permission. Institutions may notify institutional users of any additional or different conditions of use which they have agreed with the LRB.
  11. Users may use any one computer to access the LRB web site 'subscriber only' content at any time, so long as that connection does not allow any other computer, networked or otherwise connected, to access 'subscriber only' content.
  12. The LRB Website and its contents are protected by copyright and other intellectual property rights. You acknowledge that all intellectual property rights including copyright in the LRB Website and its contents belong to or have been licensed to the LRB or are otherwise used by the LRB as permitted by applicable law.
  13. All intellectual property rights in articles, reviews and essays originally published in the print edition of the LRB and subsequently included on the LRB Website belong to or have been licensed to the LRB. This material is made available to you for use as set out in paragraph 8 (if you are an individual user) or paragraph 10 (if you are an institutional user) only. Save for such permitted use, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt such material in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department.
  14. All intellectual property rights in images on the LRB Website are owned by the LRB except where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited. Save for such material taken for permitted use set out above, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt LRB’s images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department. Where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, reproduce or translate such images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the copyright holder. The LRB will not undertake to supply contact details of any attributed or credited copyright holder.
  15. The LRB Website is provided on an 'as is' basis and the LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website will be accessible by any particular browser, operating system or device.
  16. The LRB makes no express or implied representation and gives no warranty of any kind in relation to any content available on the LRB Website including as to the accuracy or reliability of any information either in its articles, essays and reviews or in the letters printed in its letter page or material supplied by third parties. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) arising from the publication of any materials on the LRB Website or incurred as a consequence of using or relying on such materials.
  17. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) for any legal or other consequences (including infringement of third party rights) of any links made to the LRB Website.
  18. The LRB is not responsible for the content of any material you encounter after leaving the LRB Website site via a link in it or otherwise. The LRB gives no warranty as to the accuracy or reliability of any such material and to the fullest extent permitted by law excludes all liability that may arise in respect of or as a consequence of using or relying on such material.
  19. This site may be used only for lawful purposes and in a manner which does not infringe the rights of, or restrict the use and enjoyment of the site by, any third party. In the event of a chat room, message board, forum and/or news group being set up on the LRB Website, the LRB will not undertake to monitor any material supplied and will give no warranty as to its accuracy, reliability, originality or decency. By posting any material you agree that you are solely responsible for ensuring that it is accurate and not obscene, defamatory, plagiarised or in breach of copyright, confidentiality or any other right of any person, and you undertake to indemnify the LRB against all claims, losses, damages and costs incurred in consequence of your posting of such material. The LRB will reserve the right to remove any such material posted at any time and without notice or explanation. The LRB will reserve the right to disclose the provenance of such material, republish it in any form it deems fit or edit or censor it. The LRB will reserve the right to terminate the registration of any person it considers to abuse access to any chat room, message board, forum or news group provided by the LRB.
  20. Any e-mail services supplied via the LRB Website are subject to these terms and conditions.
  21. You will not knowingly transmit any virus, malware, trojan or other harmful matter to the LRB Website. The LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website is free from contaminating matter, viruses or other malicious software and to the fullest extent permitted by law disclaims all liability of any kind including liability for any damages, losses or costs resulting from damage to your computer or other property arising from access to the LRB Website, use of it or downloading material from it.
  22. The LRB does not warrant that the use of the LRB Website will be uninterrupted, and disclaims all liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred as a result of access to the LRB Website being interrupted, modified or discontinued.
  23. The LRB Website contains advertisements and promotional links to websites and other resources operated by third parties. While we would never knowingly link to a site which we believed to be trading in bad faith, the LRB makes no express or implied representations or warranties of any kind in respect of any third party websites or resources or their contents, and we take no responsibility for the content, privacy practices, goods or services offered by these websites and resources. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability for any damages or losses arising from access to such websites and resources. Any transaction effected with such a third party contacted via the LRB Website are subject to the terms and conditions imposed by the third party involved and the LRB accepts no responsibility or liability resulting from such transactions.
  24. The LRB disclaims liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred for unauthorised access or alterations of transmissions or data by third parties as consequence of visit to the LRB Website.
  25. While 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is currently provided free to subscribers to the print edition of the LRB, the LRB reserves the right to impose a charge for access to some or all areas of the LRB Website without notice.
  26. These terms and conditions are governed by and will be interpreted in accordance with English law and any disputes relating to these terms and conditions will be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales.
  27. The various provisions of these terms and conditions are severable and if any provision is held to be invalid or unenforceable by any court of competent jurisdiction then such invalidity or unenforceability shall not affect the remaining provisions.
  28. If these terms and conditions are not accepted in full, use of the LRB Website must be terminated immediately.
Close
The Paperboy 
by Pete Dexter.
Viking, 307 pp., £15, May 1995, 0 670 86066 2
Show More
Third and Indiana 
by Steve Lopez.
Viking, 305 pp., £10.99, April 1995, 0 670 86132 4
Show More
Show More

The no-bullshit newsman as hero is a staple of film and genre fiction. To Pete Dexter, though, the type is deeply suspect. Dexter has been a newspaperman most of his working life, first as a reporter, for the local West Palm Beach Post (1971-72), then as a staff writer and columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News (1972-84) and now for the Sacramento Bee. He has also written five novels, the best-known of which, Paris Trout, won the National Book Award in 1988. Though born in Michigan, he was partly raised in the South, in Georgia, the setting of Paris Trout. His new novel, The Paperboy, is also set in the South, but its concerns are only incidentally Southern. Its central preoccupation is journalism, a topic touched on in his first novel, God’s Pocket(1984), set in working-class Philadelphia. The new novel is about a crime, and has a crime thriller’s feel, but as in some police procedurals, the milieu of the investigator, in this case a journalistic milieu, overshadows that of both criminal and victim.

The investigators in question are damaged, a common feature of Dexter’s characters. Jack James, the narrator, is almost as screwed up as his brother Ward, the titular ‘paperboy’, star reporter on the Miami Times. Jack self-destructs in his first year at the University of Florida, returning in shame to the narcotic routines of his father’s home in North Florida, driving a delivery truck for the Moat County Tribune, his father’s newspaper. Ward, too, disappears into his work, into ‘facts’, and when work fails him, into drink. Ward’s anaesthetising habits are connected to his confused sexuality. He likes sailors, the novel suggests, or likes being beaten up by them. Dexter himself was nearly beaten to death in 1982 as a result of a column he wrote for the Philadelphia Daily News, and horrific beatings figure prominently in his fiction (so too does an unsettling physicality, as when, on the operating table, Ward feels his surgeons ‘lifting the bones in my face, cutting them’). Jack’s retreat is more obscurely motivated, though his fear of growing up is clear; he’s like Holden Caulfield, in limbo after expulsion, and repeatedly disillusioned. Jack, too, drinks, but also seeks oblivion in the ocean, swimming out a mile or more, as if ‘I threw myself away,’ then floating back to shore, without struggle, ‘just part of the ocean’.

Both brothers have been damaged, the novel implies, by their comparably damaged father, William Ward (‘World War’) James, who is affectless and an easy mark – because so removed from feeling, or the expression of feeling. The father takes his wife’s departure (with the local drama teacher) in his stride; is unable to remember the name of the black maid who has cleaned and cooked for him for years; never asks Jack about his sudden expulsion from college; repeatedly withdraws to his study, drinking alone in his favourite chair and scanning rival papers. Jack is badly hurt when a scheming assistant on the Tribune seduces and then marries the old man (after Jack rebuffs her advances), instantly changing locks on the sons; the father is oblivious to Jack’s distress, or ignores it. Ward does everything he can to avoid the family home, in part because of fatherly expectations: he knows he’ll never be his father’s type of man – steady, well-connected, a pillar of Moat County society.

The brothers’ problems recall those of Peter Flood, the protagonist of Brotherly Love (1992), this novel’s immediate and much-praised predecessor. Peter, like Ward, is a masochist (in addition to boxing, a Dexter passion, he likes jumping off rooftops), with an absent mother and a mostly silent – and soon silenced – father; yet he, too, is drawn to family, for all its flaws and inadequacies (murderous ones in Peter’s case). In the new novel, the aetiology of these problems is less important than the light they shed on journalism itself. The novel seems to be saying of Ward that this is the sort of person who becomes this sort of journalist, obsessed with facts and stories. The father is presented as pure newspaperman: he ‘loves those things most that he can no longer touch or see’, and keeps experience at bay by telling stories, until ‘finally the stories, and the things in them, are as perfect and sharp as the edge of the knife he keeps in his pocket’. Journalists will their protective myopia, working ‘each day for the next day ... which is the fundamental rhythm of the news business’, a narrowness which also explains the attractions of the newsroom. ‘When the phone was ringing every five minutes and I was turning two dozen frantic calls into a single story,’ Jack later recalls, having himself entered the business, and thinking also of Ward: ‘I would lose myself in it for an hour or two, and find a certain peace in the confusion and excitement.’

Jack and the reader only gradually discover Ward’s inadequacies. At first the novel offers a simple and familiar contrast between good journalists (who care about truth and avoid flash) and bad ones (that is, ‘New’ ones, mere stylists). Ward is the good journalist, a facts man; his partner, Yardley Acheman, does the writing. Yardley is ‘handsome in a spoiled way, a pretty boy’, and he has ‘no interest in facts ... a shortcoming for a newspaperman’. Not only does Yardley make things up (crucially, in writing about the central crime), he swans off to New York, ‘socialising with famous writers and journalists at a bar called Elaine’s’. (The novel is set in 1969, so Yardley is to be imagined drinking with Tom Wolfe, or Truman Capote.) Dexter, a successful novelist who still works as a newspaperman and lives in the sticks, on an island in the Puget Sound, clearly detests Yardley, but Ward is no hero either. At times in Dexter’s fiction, a Ward-like manner – Dexter’s own narrative manner, brisk, declarative, macho – is valued as it is in Hemingway, or in genre fiction and film; in Brotherly Love, for example, the most virtuous characters, the boxers Nick and Harry DiMaggio, are the most taciturn, the plainest-speaking. Here, as in Paris Trout, such a manner is revealed as a defence, marking deficiency or limitation. The integrity it means to express, the sense of a personality as whole or ‘intact’, to use the novel’s own term, hardens into imperviousness, disconnection, egomania – murderous qualities in Paris Trout, also masochistic and suicidal ones, as here.

Everyone involved in the injustice Ward and Yardley seek to expose is pretty much despicable; this helps to dissolve the initial moral opposition between fact types and style types. The plot proper begins when the Miami Times receives a letter from Charlotte Lewis, a middle-aged postal worker with a thing for condemned murderers. (Bizarre postal employees, or employees driven mad working in post offices, are common enough these days to have spawned their own locution, ‘going postal’, as when someone opens fire in a McDonald’s.) Charlotte’s new love is Hillary Van Wetter, as cunning and creepy a figure as Paris Trout himself; funny, too, in the manner, say, of Hannibal Lector. Van Wetter, she claims, has been unfairly convicted of the 1965 murder of Sheriff Thurmond Call of Moat County. Sheriff Call was himself horrible, having, ‘even by Moat County standards, killed an inappropriate number of Negroes’, and only last spring ‘kicked a man to death on a public street.’ That man was Jerome Van Wetter, Hillary’s cousin ‘once or twice removed’ (the family is notoriously primitive and inbred), and when Call’s disembowelled and half-skinned body is found one morning, attention immediately focuses on Hillary, the ‘most unpredictable and ferocious’ Van Wetter.

Charlotte is kinky and oversexed, in the manner of Hanna Trout or Grace Katz in Brotherly Love, themselves figures out of film noir or detective fiction. When bothered by a friendly dog she casually reaches down a hand (a ring on every finger, one set with a convict’s tooth) and touches its head: ‘the dog came up slowly then, encircled her leg with his legs, and she pushed him down just as slowly, prying him off just as he started to pump.’ When visiting Hillary in Maximum Security, Charlotte brings him off simply opening her mouth and wetting her lips. As for Hillary’s predecessors: ‘she still liked to think of them at night, imprisoned in six different states, staring at her picture in the half light of their cells, the place completely quiet except for their hard breathing and their rattling cots.’ Hillary is special, though, in ways that recall Ward’s defensive reserve. His letters, Charlotte brags, contain ‘no evasions, no lawyer jargon, no bragging. He was purer than her other killers, but she had sensed that from the start. Uncompromised by jail and attorneys, an intact man.’

And a monster – like the man he’s accused of killing and like Charlotte herself. For Ward to work himself to death in the interests of such people suggests the morally neutral character of his obsession with the case, and by extension his profession, especially since the wrongs he uncovers investigating Hillary’s original prosecution are matters of routine incompetence or sloth rather than corruption. Here as elsewhere the novel undermines the genre expectations it evokes: there’s no conspiracy on the part of the authorities, for all the familiar conspiracy touches (the tight-lipped townsfolk, the 41 boxes of ‘evidence’, the missing witness); Ward, the ace reporter, is thoroughly hoodwinked; Yardley’s nemesis, a young female reporter, is herself unheroic (myopic, hysterical, careerist); Jack learns nothing, eventually taking over the family paper (as opposed to settling into principled obscurity). As such details suggest, Dexter is determined to distance his novel from ‘the purity that is familiar to readers of newspapers’. Yet this purity persists, principally in the narrative voice, with its spare, no-bullshit directness, a voice familiar from Dexter’s previous novels (though less in evidence in God’s Pocket and Deadwood, its 1986 successor, a comic Western of sorts). This voice is pleasurable, like the clean, brisk lines of the plot, but it is also limited, as the novel itself is at pains to suggest.

Steve Lopez also comes to fiction from journalism, having worked as a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer since 1986, and before that as a reporter for the Oakland Tribune and the San Jose Mercury. Third and Indiana, his first novel, arrives garlanded with praise both from Dexter (‘Clean. Hard in all the right ways’) and Tim O’Brien, but Lopez is no Dexter. To begin with, he’s less original, in both subject matter and treatment. Gabriel Santoro, the novel’s 14-year-old protagonist, is a crack dealer in inner-city Philadelphia, hemmed in by psychopathic drug-lords, on the run from his loving and bewildered mother, Ofelia, from gruff but warm-hearted Lieutenant Bagno of the Philadelphia police, from the campaigning priest, Father Laetner. In other words, he’s a thoroughly familiar figure, like the teenage crack-dealer, Strike, in Richard Price’s riveting Clockers (1992), or the eponymous 12-year-old hero of Boaz Yakim’s film Fresh(1995) who also deals drugs, or the doomed ‘Little Precious’ in the Top Forty hit ‘Waterfalls’ by the rap group TLC. Gabriel outsmarts the brutal drug lords, like Strike and Fresh; but he also ends up dead, cradled in his mother’s arms, like ‘Little Precious’ in the ‘Waterfalls’ video.

The novel’s dual narrative structure is also familiar. Just as Clockers alternates episodes from Strike’s street-life with the gathering disintegration of Rocco Klein, the cop who hunts him, so Gabriel’s manoeuvrings alternate with the difficulties of a comparably stressed figure, the jazz musician Eddie Passcrelli. When the two strands finally intertwine, they do so sentimentally; in addition to outwitting his tormentors (in a plan so intricate only Fresh could figure it out) Gabriel also engineers his mother’s romance with Eddie. Other sentimental touches include Gabriel’s ‘tough love’ girlfriend Marisol, Ofelia’s mystical leanings, and the ‘newspaper purity’ of Father Laetner. Gabriel himself is described as ‘a dark sliver of a boy with slow, sad eyes’. When a gun is fired a ‘thin column of smoke’ rises from its muzzle. Gabriel’s father warns him to attend in school with the words: ‘You don’t wanna end up like your old man.’

The best moments in the novel involve Diablo, Gabriel’s brutal boss; these are also, one presumes, the moments when Lopez’s knowledge of the North Philadelphia Badlands comes into play. Diablo is street supervisor for the Black Caps gang, which means he’s in charge of 20 four-man crews. These crews consist of lookouts, a seller or dealer and a crew captain. The plot focuses on one such crew and its interactions with the street boss, largely ignoring higher echelons of the trade, though there’s some talk of gang rivalry and turf wars. The crew chief’s job is to hide the stash, delivered in bundles by a drop-off man. He also hides the gun (never with the stash) and delivers fresh bundles to the dealer. ‘The thing you never wanted to do was to have drugs and the gun on you at the same time, because it was automatic prison.’ The lookouts, often as young as eight or nine, make sure the police, who patrol every night and know exactly what’s going on, never see an actual transaction – the only way they can make an arrest. Gabriel does his selling on the most dangerous corner of the city, Third and Indiana, and in the event of trouble is meant to use the gun, though he never has. If anyone messes up, they deal with Diablo, who keeps pit bulls – which he shoots, at a rate of ‘about three a week’. Diablo is paranoid as well as psychotic and travels from crew to crew with a pack of bodyguards so frightened of him that ‘if he told them to, they’d shoot themselves in the head.’

The soppy story and its complications eventually overwhelm the documentary features of the novel; Diablo himself disappears for improbably long spells, the mechanics of the drug trade cease to figure. Yet the story itself is pure journalism. Though Dexter praises the novel for its ‘hardness’ this is the very quality it lacks, and not just in terms of narrative. Lopez fancies himself a stylist, and the novel contains passages of flowery fine writing of the sort Jack deplores in The Paperboy, as both ‘out of place’ and ‘ordinary’ – that is, familiar, a criticism as applicable to this sort of novel as to journalism. There’s also a softness about the ending, which offers little hope for the solution of inner-city problems, but sees the union of Eddie and Ofelia, and their escape from the Badlands.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

letters@lrb.co.uk

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.