Magazine article The Spectator

An Innocent at Large in Dystopia

Magazine article The Spectator

An Innocent at Large in Dystopia

Article excerpt

An innocent at large in dystopia TRAIN by Pete Dexter Heinemann, £15.99, pp. 258, ISBN 0434012378

Turgenev wrote, 'Whatever a man prays for, he prays for a miracle. Every prayer reduces itself to this: "Great God, grant that twice two be not four." ' Pete Dexter starts from the other end. His characters know that, whatever they pray for, twice two will always be four - and it will always be held against them, and they will have to pay for it.

It is 1953. Train is a black teenager who caddies at a white golf club, an inspired innocent who carries grass seed back to the ghetto to grow a lawn, who feeds a literally lame duck he names Marliss. Miller Packard is a police sergeant who discovers in Train the most naturally gifted golfer he has ever seen. He moves Train and his friend Plural -a blind, punch-drunk ex-boxer - into the guest-house on his wife's Beverly Hills property. Norah Packard is as punch-drunk as Plural. She has been raped, mutilated, and seen her first husband murdered in front of her. As with Train, Packard rides in to rescue her, and it is his capacity for self-deception - his belief that he can change things -that precipitates disaster.

Packard is a Chandler hero, a sentimentalist who thinks he's a cynic. Train's attitude to life is like his attitude to his golf swing: 'I just get out the way and let it go.' Norah believes in goodness no more than Train does: 'When the wires actually touched, good intentions and bad intentions were all the same. …

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