Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Train of Small Mercies, by David Rowell

In June 1968, America society was surviving only by sheer will. Torn apart first by the Vietnam War and then by Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, the country is once again rocked when Bobby Kennedy is shot hours after his victory in the California primary.

The public comes out in droves as Kennedy’s train travels the length of the East Coast to its final resting point in Arlington Cemetery. As the train meanders, so, too, do the lives of those living along the train’s pathway. In one home, a husband and wife struggle with boredom and the recognition of the spouse’s failings; in another, a Vietnam veteran must confront the loss of his leg and the horrors he saw in battle; in another city, a mother goes to extreme lengths to avoid her husband’s criticism and watch the train’s trip when a terrifying event derails her plans.

The Train of Small Mercies follows not only Kennedy’s casket, but also the events that coincided with the train’s passing that also forever changed lives. With exquisitely written dialogue, Rowell displays American life in all its tumult as it existed on June 8, 1968 – a day of both mourning and growth - for the country. The author’s first novel reflects East Coast life and cultural problems as they existed then, but also manages to connect them to present-day Washington DC. Lovers of American history and those fascinated by the Kennedy family should not miss this gem.

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