There are no intact men," says Jack James, narrator of Pete Dexter's lyrical and disturbing new novel. Though this simple sentence appears at the end of this narrative of a family of Florida newspapermen, it is clear from the beginning that this is a story of broken men. The Paperboy is a tale of filial and journalistic responsibility and the toll it takes on a father and his two sons.
Jack, the younger son of W.W. James, editor and owner of The Moat County Tribune, is a passive narrator, central to the story without being at the center of it. After being expelled from the University of Florida for a drunken prank, Jack is living at home alone with his father, driving one of the Tribune's delivery trucks. He lives in the shadow of his star-reporter brother Ward, who eclipses Jack first as a Miami Herald reporter who eventually wins a Pulitzer Prize, then as a favorite son. But Ward has his own demons, and when he returns to Moat County to follow a lead about a local hoodlum wrongfully convicted for the murder of the sheriff, his own secret life is forced to the surface with violent and irrevocable results.
The author of four novels, including National Book Award winner Paris Trout, Dexter is a writer who cuts to the bone. There is not a spare word in this searing tale of men who seem as tough and prickly as the Florida Everglades, but who are broken and terrified beneath their shells. This is a bravura performance by one of America's most original and elegiac voices. (Random House, $23)