Train Whistle Guitar by Albert Murray

Train Whistle GuitarINFORMATION

Goodreads: Train Whistle Guitar
Series: Scooter #1
Source: Purchased
Published: 1975


Scooter narrates his life growing up in Gasoline Point, Alabama, in the 1920s, from his admiration of the train-hopping, guitar-playing Luzana Cholly to his desire to eavesdrop on adult conversations in the barbershop to his first experiences with girls.


Albert Murray’s Train Whistle Guitar is a coming-of-age story that, from what I have read, closely mirrors his own experiences growing up.  It presents the story of Scooter, a boy who lives in a town so small it is known only because it’s a stop on the rails, as he matures in a close-knit community in the South.

In many ways Murray’s novel seems like an answer to Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, the black experience growing up told by a black voice.   Like Twain’s protagonists, Scooter experiences some horrifying and dangerous things, but takes them in the stride of boyhood.  Hopping the rails, discovering a body hidden by bootleggers, and witnessing the violence of racial prejudice are all just parts of life that he must learn to navigate.  But here the reader finds no Jim–instead Scooter narrates his own experiences and so rises above stereotypes.

And Scooter’s narration is a wonder.  Murray’s prose has a bluesy feel, with the characters speaking in patterns that are reminiscent of call-and-response, and the words tumbling across the page like a song.  Scooter’s world is half real, half folktale–he speaks of legendary time and heroes, and his narration seems like an attempt to freeze his own experience in some mystical in-between place where children remain young and carefree, but also poised just on the brink of maturity.

Train Whistle Guitar is a unique read and one well worth it for those who love a good storyteller.

Krysta 64

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