Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Night Train by Clyde Edgerton Review (briefly)

If Southern period novels are your thing,
why not try this one?
To sum up:  The Night Train - prolific North Carolina author Clyde Edgerton's most recent novel, which released on Monday - offers a small slice-o-life in the rural American South just as the Civil Rights Movement's beginning.  And it's got music, and two high school friends - piano player Leroy Lemon and singer-guitarist Dwayne, one black, one white - and racism and folksy humor. Add to those elements many descriptions of the town of Starke, North Carolina (and surrounding hamlets): which building is across from which and which house is to the north of that - as the crow flies (and there are a lot of crows in Starke, and chickens) - what the woods look like, that sort of thing, plus dozens of partially-drawn characters participating in everyday vignettes within a scant 200ish-pages, and you've got yourself a book. 

     If the elements above tend to entice you, then by all means: The Night Train has 'em. 

Want to know what I really thought?  Personally?
(Warning: If you are already a Clyde Edgerton fan - Killer Diller, The Bible Salesman - just go buy the book.  If you choose to read on, don't say I didn't warn you...)

     Would I personally read this novel, if I had it to do all over again?  Not so much. 
     It's not quite a coming-of-age tale, as our two protagonists are already in late adolescence, and although some conflicts arise, they don't seem to change either guy much, if at all.
     Not quite a period piece, although it strives to be. 
     Not quite a catalogue/celebration of popular music at the time, although - in addition to all the place names and characters - dozens of songs and artists are mentioned, rehearsals are staged. 
     Not quite the laugh-fest the cover blurbs imply.  (I chuckled once.  The entire time.  And - ask folks who know me can attest - I'm as likely to guffaw as anybody.)
     I kept wondering if this 'novel' was actually the exposition for a heftier novel-to-be, or the first in a series of short novels.  If so, it doesn't stand on its own particularly well.

    At best, The Night Train is a quietly episodic exploration of daily life in one small community, and of how music may have influenced a few young people to bridge some aspects of the racial gap during the Civil Rights Era.   **/5


p.s.  Despite the fact that this novel didn't impress me, I'm quite grateful to Hatchette Books for providing it: I truly had expected to enjoy it, given the themes and content and reviews.  And I have appreciated the other books I've read and listened to from their imprint.  I sure hope this doesn't take me out of the loop for future offerings from Hatchette, but there's no way I would want to compromise my honest response to The Night Train on that account.  Fingers crossed; caution to the winds.

Action:  Shift my read-n-review balance away from ARCs I can't peruse beforehand and toward library books I can sample or books trusted readers recommend.  I'm going for a 20/80 split, and I'll dedicate much of the 80% to non-Western writers for the rest of the summer and into the fall as I prep to teach World Lit.  My action for all of those will be to write a quick rec. with my students and their families in mind, and to post those on a separate site for easy reference next year.  Of course, I'll post 'em here too!

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