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The Night Train    by Clyde Edgerton order for
Night Train
by Clyde Edgerton
Order:  USA  Can
Little, Brown & Co., 2011 (2011)

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* *   Reviewed by Rheta Van Winkle

Larry Lime Beacon of Time Reckoning Breathe on Me Nolan is a black sixteen-year-old. He has been learning to play the piano from the wife of his minister, and he's good. He loves playing the piano and manages to be noticed by a jazz pianist named The Bleeder, who plays in a bar called The Frog. The Bleeder decides to take Larry Lime on as a student. Larry Lime works in a furniture refinishing shop owned by Mr. Hallston, whose son Dwayne, age seventeen and white, also works there. The two have become friends.

Dwayne has organized a small rock and roll band, but when Larry Lime plays James Brown's recording Live at the Apollo for him, Dwayne decides that his band has to learn this music word for word and note for note, and will audition for a local television show that features live talent every week. Dwayne will sing and dance just like James Brown, and Larry Lime helps him with his moves. The band, the Amazing Rumblers, has a limited repertoire when they start to play the James Brown songs. Some members aren't thrilled about having to learn this new music, especially with Dwayne being so determined that they play it exactly the way it sounds on the album.

Meanwhile, Larry Lime is learning more and more about playing jazz from The Bleeder, and wants to play just like Thelonious Monk. There is an old piano at the back of the furniture refinishing store which he repairs and practices on whenever he can find a few minutes while his boss is away. Dwayne's band also practices in the back of the store, but because Dwayne is the son of the owner, they have more practice time there than Larry Lime does.

The year is 1963 and because of their mutual love of music, Larry Lime and Dwayne become good friends, even though an interracial friendship is frowned upon. The town where they live is divided by railroad tracks, with white people and a white high school on one side and black people living on the other side of the tracks. The black high school that Larry Lime attends is in the next town. Martin Luther King Jr. is preaching and the civil rights movement is heating up with lunch counter protests and buses coming from the north to help the movement, but in their little town the two boys have to be careful to keep from being seen together, unless they're at work.

The story sticks to the boys and their families for the most part. The civil rights movement is mentioned in passing, just to remind the reader that although not a lot has changed in this small town at that moment, things are about to change in a big way all over the South. The action is told in a straightforward way by characters who, black or white, are so similar in their ways and speech patterns, that we would not recognize the white people from the black people if we hadn't been told when they were introduced to us. They all even like to eat the same kinds of food.

There are only a couple of white people who are blatantly racist. Almost everyone seems to get along with the others, regardless of what color their skin is. Several of the black women work for some of the white women, who appreciate what they do and don't know what they'd do without them. And the people working in the furniture refinishing store are, of course, both white and black, as are the employees of several other local businesses that are mentioned.

Subtle humor is always present in a book by Clyde Edgerton. The lengthy names of Larry Lime and his family members, some of the escapades that the boys dream up, Larry Lime's dancing chicken, and the irony of the exact similarity between the people on both sides of the tracks all make this a delightful, engaging picture of life in a small Southern town in 1963. The serious aspects, even the death of one of the older characters, are glossed over in such a way that we are entertained without being overwhelmed.

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