If he smells like urine he is probably crazy – “Paris Trout” by Pete Dexter

September 27, 2011 at 10:23 pm Leave a comment

Paris Trout by Pete Dexter: Book Cover

Paris Troutby Pete Dexter, Published 1988

I found this book interesting but my feelings about it are mixed.  If it adds anything it did win the National Book Award (impressed?) so many very important people liked it more than me.

The story starts with Rosie, a 14 year old black girl, living in the Southern town of Cotton Point, Georgia in the post WWII era.  Because her prostitute mother kicks her out of the house (that’s right Rosie’s life isn’t hard enough just being black in the South), she finds herself living with Mary McNutt, a kind woman who takes her in, and Ms. McNutt’s children.  Ms. McNutt’s son, Henry Ray, buys a car from Paris Trout, a wealthy landowner who also thrives on loaning money to the African-American community.  Henry Ray buys the car on credit, promising to pay Trout weekly.  But when the car gets hit by a truck, it becomes clear that Henry Ray has been sold a rusty piece of crap.  He drives it back to Trout’s store and tells Trout either he fixes the car or Henry Ray is leaving the car behind.  Trout tells Henry Ray that he owes what he owes and Trout expects to get paid. Henry Ray leaves the car behind.

Trout then shows up at Mary McNutt’s house with his sidekick Buster Devone, a former police office fired for being overzealous in his treatment of the African-American community.  After a short verbal altercation with Henry Ray and his brother, Trout and Devonne chase Rosie and Ms. McNutt through the house – shooting both multiple times. Both men flee.  Rosie is taken to the hospital and shortly afterwards dies. Ms. McNutt lives and refuses to allow the doctors to remove the multiple bullets in her body.

Though Trout admits to the shooting, he is not arrested.  But instead is allowed to wander free and wait for trial.  He is eventually found guilty and sentenced by a jury but still manages to not spend any time in prison.

After the shooting any hold Trout had on his sanity (if he had any to begin with) starts to quickly unravel. His wife, Hanna, finds herself prisoner in her home and subject to severe abuse – these parts of the book were the hardest for me to read.  Trout’s lawyer, Harry Seagraves, represents him throughout the criminal trial but knows that something is just not right (yes, besides the whole shooting-a-child-for-no-reason thing).  Trout continues to remain unaccountable to anyone throughout the book and this lack of  accountability results in a very violent end – though arguably not any more violent that the beginning of this story.

I know what Dexter is trying to do here. A rich white man shoots a little black girl and the community merely shrugs.  But the community can’t exactly embrace Trout after he commits this crime so instead they ignore it.  They will find him guilty, sentence him and then just hope it all goes away.  They ignore that Trout is carrying loaded guns with him everything. They ignore that he is talking to himself, that he smells like urine, that he killed a little black girl because he was worried about not getting loan payments.  It is just easier that way.  This is not unlike what Brett Easton Ellis did in “American Psycho” where everyone ignores the ravings of the rich serial killer because “hey isn’t he just quirky and dressed so nice.” Ellis also addresses the off-center societal norm, which Dexter attempts to address as well.  But Dexter just isn’t as good.  His characters are not as interesting and, apart from Mary McNutt, his women characters, mainly Hanna Dexter, seem remote and one dimensional. At times the writing seems to lack the necessary emotion. The scene where Rosie was shot seemed detached and almost sterile – I could not tell if this was a writing techinique used to show Trout’s break from the reality of what he was doing or if it was just not the best writing.  Either way, I think it could have been done better.

Mary McNutt testifies during Trout’s trial that “[the jury] don’t decide what happened. It’s already done. All they decide is if they gone do something about it.”  And that is Dexter’s lesson – if everyone sits on their hands, eyes tightly shut, desparately hoping that it will all go away then it can only end badly for everyone. I get it but I do think there is better literature out there with the same lesson.  So maybe the real lesson is: read that other literature. Sorry Pete.


Entry filed under: September 2011 reads. Tags: , , .

Preachers’ kids have it rough – “Go Tell it on the Mountain” by James Baldwin Fannie Flagg’s “I Still Dream About You,” not a fried green tomato in sight

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There is some great literature out there, but there is a lot of bad literature as well. We shouldn't all have to read it. These are my recommendations and thoughts about the books I read.


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