The Night Train
~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp ~
Clyde Edgerton’s 2011 novel, The Night Train, is a coming-of-age story set in 1963 in a small town in North Carolina. The South is roiled at this time by the Civil Rights movement. It seems that race relations are on everybody’s mind. There are “whites only” establishments from which black people are barred, such as restaurants, hotels, and movie theatres. It’s going to take a lot of effort to get this changed.
Larry Lime Nolan is a black teenager living with his family in the town of Stark, North Carolina. He works in a small furniture refinishing establishment and wants to be a jazz musician. Dwayne Hallston is white. He also works in the furniture refinishing factory and is a friend of Larry’s. Some people believe it’s not a good idea for a black boy and a white boy to be friends at this time and place, but friends they are.
Larry Lime, aspiring to play piano like Thelonious Monk, takes impromptu piano lessons from an old jazz musician called the Bleeder. He thinks learning the piano will help him make his way to a better life so he won’t have to refinish furniture his whole life.
Dwayne Hallston and Larry Lime are big fans of James Brown. They both greatly admire James Brown’s album, Live at the Apollo. They decide they will mimic the album the best they can and perform exactly as James Brown performs. (“The Night Train” is a track on that album.) Their plan is to get a on a local TV music show and from there launch into big-time showbiz.
Flash Akers is the owner of the furniture refinishing establishment where Larry Lime and Dwayne Hallston work. Larry and Dwayne try to keep out of Flash’s way because when they are at work they are engaged in a lot of non-work. Flash is a middle-aged white man living with and taking care of his mama, who is in her seventies. When she has a stroke, Flash has to call in someone to help him take care of her. Will he get a white woman or a black woman to help out? This is an important decision. A lot of old white woman don’t like taking care of stroke victims, especially if they aren’t “ambulatory.” If he gets a black woman, his mama probably isn’t going to like it. “I just want to die!” mama says. “Don’t say that, mama!” Flash says. “It isn’t nice!”
Copyright © 2022 by Allen Kopp