The Night Train
by Clyde Edgerton
Little, Brown and Company
At a very young age, I recognized the power of music. For me, the right song performed by my favorite artist took away pain, inspired action and motivated a multitude of smiles. I learned music is a vessel—an escape that can accomplish what so many outlets cannot. Take away television, take away magazines and newspapers—even photography—and leave society with only a transformative tune, and the masses still have a means to grow together.
Music is a force unmatched that transcends the course of the history it helped shape. With it, families can reunite and rejoice, romantic relationships can thrive, and forbidden friendships have a chance to communicate beyond ideals.
One of Wilmington’s most prized writers, Clyde Edgerton, solidifies this concept in his newest creation, “The Night Train,” scheduled to make its debut July 25th. The new book found its way into my inbox a few weeks ago via a trailer preview (http://vimeo.com/25265338) produced by Apple Hill Studios. The tease piqued my interest. Like every summer I have spent in our Port City since 2007, the lazy boiling days and muggy Southern nights aren’t complete unless there is the refreshing submersion into the world of Edgerton.
“The Night Train” takes us back to the musical and racial revolution of the rural South in 1962. It portrays a 17-year-old, middle-class white boy, Dwayne Hallston, as he discovers the incomparable James Brown. He was introduced to Brown’s timeless and emotional music by Larry Lime Nolan, a black boy from literally across the tracks. Within his small North Carolina community (the state favored most within Edgerton’s tales), Hallston tirelessly studies and rehearses Brown’s “Live at the Apollo” album in his father’s storage-room shop. Hallston’s ambition is to perform just like Brown, so he builds a rock ‘n’ roll band, the Amazing Rumblers.
Nolan is also aspiring to play piano, but for different reasons. His musical talent is his ticket out of rural segregation that his mother prays for him to achieve more than anything. He is taking jazz piano lessons from a man called, “The Bleeder.” Though Nolan’s and Hallston’s musical ambitions stem from different places emotionally branded by the encumbrances of their individual pasts, their mutual love for music and their attempts to find a lifelong friendship is what undoubtedly will make “The Night Train” another Edgerton classic.
“The idea for the novel came from a memory I had of 1963,” Edgerton says. Influenced heavily by Emerson, Twain, Hemingway, O’Connor and Faulkner, his inspiration came from a world of strong storytellers who understand heavy identification with character and the universality of life’s experiences. Larry Lime, the protagnoist of “The Night Train,” is molded from one of Edgerton’s forbidden childhood friendships—a friendship he hopes to find again, perhaps, with the help of his novel.
“Larry Lime is the same name of a young black boy I so much wanted to be friends with, but in my community of Bethesda, it wasn’t allowed,” he says. “His full name was Larry Lime Holman; in the novel it’s, Larry Lime Nolan. You could say that I hope he finds this novel and that we connect again. He is a footnote to the experience of writing the book.”
Not an afterthought, however, are the signs of the times, when America’s befuddled history contained the questioning of equal rights to everyone. Still, among two pals, color took a back seat to common interests, no matter the dictating talk and political landscape around them.
“The real Larry Lime and I liked to argue (in fun) about the basketball teams at our high schools” Edgerton remembers. “Since the teams never met, and wouldn’t under Jim Crow, we decided to have a secret game in an old gym. We had to break in the back door and play one Saturday morning, as I recall. I gathered together some of my friends and he gathered some of his. I can’t remember who won, but I do remember we had a good time. Once he and I, just the two of us, were playing basketball in our backyard, and my father asked me to ask him to leave. My father, mind you, was not a cruel man.”
With five notable book awards from the New York Times, the Guggenheim Fellowship and Lyndhurst Prize among his credits, it’s no wonder Edgerton has earned wonderful reception on all his novels. His writing style transcends the Mason-Dixon Line with carefree, easy-to-read wit and trademark humor.
Considering my own Northern roots, it’s true to state one doesn’t need to be heavily into Southern Gothic reads to look forward to diving into “The Night Train.” One just has to “let the waters surround them” and allow the music to take them away.
The encore book club’s next read can by purchased from Pomegranate Books and Two Sisters Bookery in Wilmington for a 15 percent discount when mentioning the encore book club. Book club members must have thoughts e-mailed to Tiffanie by August 24th for inclusion in the book club’s review of Edgerton’s work. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.