cover image The Night Train

The Night Train

Clyde Edgerton. Little, Brown, $23.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-316-11759-3

Great historical tides rise slowly, particularly in the rural 1963 North Carolina of Edgerton's slick tale (after The Bible Salesman) of music and racial revolution. The surreptitiously exhibited but strong teenage friendship between Larry Lime Beacon of Time Reckoning Breathe on Me Nolan (yes, that's his entire name), an aspiring jazz pianist hoping to ride his musical talent out of rural segregation, and Dwayne Hallston, a middle-class white boy enamored of James Brown, frames the tumult and upheaval of the civil rights movement in East and West Starke, N.C. The two music-mad boys live in divided communities, poignantly characterized by the burdens of their respective pasts, which "brought hardships to the people of West Starke not understood by the people of East Starke, and guilt to the East not understood by anybody%E2%80%94a guilt that if moving deep in a lake, would leave the surface flat calm." Edgerton sustains a wry tone in this lightly plotted novel, where the action is confined to band practices, a chicken flung over a cinema balcony, and well-intentioned but comically inept attempts at integration. The characters are drawn with compassion and droll humor, and while not much happens to them, what happens between them is the work of a generous, restrained writer whose skill and craft allows small scenes to tell a larger, more profound story. (July)