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The Night Train

October 13, 2011 by Reader's Connection

The Night TrainThe setting is rural North Carolina in 1963. The civil rights movement has people looking at each other sideways; but two teenage guys, one black and one white, share a love for black music, and their frowned-upon friendship grows despite the restraints. This sounds like the recipe for a sappy, well-meaning book, so how come The Night Train moves and grooves? What sets this tale apart?

1) I was a teenager at the same time that Larry Lime Nolan and Dwayne Hallston are teenagers, but it didn’t occur to any of my friends to drop a live rooster from the balcony in a movie theater where people were watching Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds.

2)  Larry Lime’s full name is Larry Lime Beacon of Time Reckoning Breathe on Me Nolan. Aunt Marzie does the naming in his family.

3) When the characters talk about music–chord progressions and so on–Author Clyde Edgerton makes the dialogue bounce. Even musically ungifted readers get the beat.

4) On the Brother Bobby Lee Reese Country Music Jamboree television show, Bobby Lee eats some dog food every week. Black and white viewers alike marvel at his behavior.

And you might wonder why descendants of slaves in rural North Carolina, 1963, tuned in to a country music show. For one thing, the only other TV show at ten thirty on Saturday nights was a thirty-minute weather program hosted by Gabe Ferguson, who kept dropping his map pointer. But it was also because of Bobby Lee Reese: his apparent naive generosity and his ability to talk to black people under the white radar. Aunt Marzie said, He talk about us all sand lugging and suckering out there in that hot sun. He gits it, and he ain’t all wound up and worried up.

A beautifully captured American moment. Groove on it.

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