The Paperboy Critical Essays

Pete Dexter

The Paperboy

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Like Pete Dexter’s much-admired novel PARIS TROUT (1988), THE PAPERBOY is set in a small Southern town. This time, however, Dexter looks at what happens when journalists decide to second-guess the law.

Four years after the death of Thurmond Call, the unsavory sheriff of Florida’s Moat County, his murderer, Hillary Van Wetter, is scheduled for execution. Although she has never met Van Wetter, Charlotte Bless has fallen in love with the death-row inmate, and she is determined to get him freed and to marry him. When two investigative reporters from a Miami newspaper arrive in search of a good story, Charlotte enlists them in the cause. One of the reporters, Yardley Acheman, is motivated merely by ambition; the other, Ward James, is as idealistic as his father, the local publisher.

Unfortunately, as Ward’s younger brother soon realizes, idealists are easy prey for the unprincipled members of their own profession. W. W. James is victimized by a woman who pretends to want him when all she wants is his newspaper, and after Ward is badly beaten by homophobic sailors, Yardley rewrites the story, adding some useful lies, and publishes it. As a result, Hillary is released, and the story wins a Pulitzer Prize. Other reporters discover Yardley’s dishonesty. As a result, the reputations of both reporters are ruined. Undaunted, Yardley goes on to become an author. Charlotte is murdered by her new husband, and, unable to live with the results of his crusade, Ward commits suicide. Although THE PAPERBOY focuses on the newspaper business, obviously it can be applied to any area of human life. Sadly, noble ideals can always be perverted, and evil can result even from the pursuit of truth.

Sources for Further Study

AJR: American Journalism Review. XVII, April, 1995, p. 56.

The Christian Science Monitor. February 16, 1995, p. 12.

London Review of Books. XVII, October 5, 1995, p. 23.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. January 1, 1995, p. 3.

New Statesman and Society. VIII, June 30, 1995, p. 38.

The New York Times Book Review. C, January 22, 1995, p. 7.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLI, November 7, 1994, p. 62.

Southern Living. XXX, March, 1995, p. 142.

Time. CXLV, January 23, 1995, p. 58.

The Times Literary Supplement. May 19, 1995, p. 19.

The Washington Post. January 17, 1995, p. C2.