Features / Fiction / In Their Own Words / Nonfiction

In His Own Words: Pete Dexter

Rob Jacklosky’s 9/23 feature on Pete Dexter makes Dexter’s preoccupations as a writer abundantly clear—violence, vivid experience, and the pursuit of truth. So too do these quotes below, taken from Dexter’s novels, newspaper columns, and interviews, reveal these same interests.

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“‘Henry Ray don’t know how to look at nobody else and understand them,’ she said, ‘because he don’t know what he look like himself.’” —Paris Trout (1988)


“‘Sometimes,’ he said, fondly, as if he were remembering a story, ‘the only way you find out you’re ready is that when you have to be, you are.’” —The Paperboy (1995)


“The world is a hungry place and whatever kind of thing you is, there’s something out there that likes to eat it.” —Train (2003)


 “When there’s something good and really fresh on each page, that’s a good night.” —from a 2011 interview with Village Voice


“After that I walked into the kitchen and hit the stool. It is satisfying stuff, of course, to hit a stool anytime, but especially right after your computer just ate 120 pages of your book. You’ll notice that I did not hit the computer itself, still not completely satisfied that what was inside it was gone…

“It feels a little like when the doctor comes in and says, ‘Why don’t we try an extra week in the hospital, see if we can’t get that swelling down,’ and it feels a little like losing your wallet. But that isn’t it. It’s like driving out across the country, getting to Boone, Iowa, and realizing your wallet is lying in your pants back on the floor of the Holiday Inn in Sioux City.

There is nothing to do but throw your tantrum and then go back to Sioux City and start over…” —Paper Trails: True Stories of Confusion, Mindless Violence, and Forbidden Desires, a Surprising Number of Which Are Not About Marriage (2007)


“Most people who tell you that they love to write, right away that tells you that they can’t. Then there are people who like it some days and don’t like it others, there’s a chance for them. But if you’re doing it, it’s really hard. I mean, if you are doing it well, you’re occupying a part of your brain that doesn’t want to be occupied. The best lines that you write, at least sometimes, are the truest lines, and they’ll sometimes startle you when they come out. And to get at that place, where things are really true, is often uncomfortable. At least for me. Maybe if I’d lived a nicer life it wouldn’t be. And the work part is not like going into a room that’s too warm for three hours and I’m going to be uncomfortable in it. It’s finding your way there, for me. The hard part is the work part. And you have to do that again and again. You write two or three good sentences and then you have to get it all cranked up again.” —from a 2010 interview with Alex Belth of Bronx Banter


“There are no intact men.” —The Paperboy


“I think your instinct has to be to confront. If you’re the kind of guy that comes to a peaceful lake and you know there’s birds floating around on it and it’s early morning or something and you’re happy just standing there looking at that beautiful sight, then maybe you’re a photographer. But you know, if your instinct is to toss a rock in the pond and watch the birds come up and watch what it does to the surface of the water, to me it’s that interruption of quiet, which is not just about what column writing is about, but it’s about what writing itself is kind of about, when you think about it, you know.” —from a 2007 interview with Scott Simon of NPR, in response to the question of what makes a good column and columnist


“It is the nature of the business. Something moves, and draws the eye, and that is as much as it takes. A day later it is incorporated into the great, messy history of this place and time.” —The Paperboy


“‘My mother don’t wanna fucking talk to you,’ the other son said, and slammed down the phone. Spooner felt a tremendous wave of relief, the first one in quite a while.

“‘My mother don’t wanna fucking talk to you,’ he said out loud, liking the sound, wondering if that could be the last line of the poem about the bones. Hoping she wouldn’t change her mind. Thinking that was the end of that.” —Spooner


“I have seen a pope. I have seen Julius Erving at the top of his game. I have seen a city administrator burn down a neighborhood. I watched Randall Cobb slowly realize he would never become heavyweight champion of the world. One night I almost watched myself die.

And as moving as those things were at the time, they are not what endure. What endures are the people I loved.

Somewhere along the line, this city has done me a profound favor. I glimpse it once in a while at night in the street, among the people who live there, or along the road. Hitchhikers. It cuts fresh every time.

I recognize the lost faces because one of them, I think, was supposed to be mine.” —from Dexter’s last column for the Philadelphia Daily News

Bloom Post End

Click here to read Rob Jacklosky’s feature piece on Pete Dexter.

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