Sunday, November 10, 2013

All Aboard: Riding the Rails in Fiction

For many of us, trains are fascinating: cargo and passenger trains, subways, high-speed rail. The call of a train whistle--the rumbling, chugging sound--awakens the spirit and encourages the imagination to crisscross time and place. That's what inspired me to write In Transit, a woman-in-jeopardy novel published two years ago. It's the story of a misguided, rookie NYPD transit cop assigned to the labyrinthine New York City subway system and how, when she falls in love with the wrong man, her life derails.

In Trains and Lovers by Alexander McCall Smith, four travelers, diverse in backgrounds and ages, are brought together on a train bound from Edinburgh to London. They pass the time by telling tales of how the railroad played a significant part in each of their love lives.

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline is a coming-of-age novel that connects the disparate lives of two women. The story is based on the program that, from the 19th century until the Great Depression, carted orphans via train to adoptive families in the Midwest.

Pandemonium infuses Mrs. Queen Takes the Train. In William Kuhn's clever, inventive novel, Queen Elizabeth gets fed up with the demands of life at Buckingham Palace, slips on a borrowed hoodie and goes rogue, taking public rail transportation to Scotland.

The Train of Small Mercies, a collection of short stories by David Rowell, links the poignant, personal experiences of six ordinary people who witness and grieve as the train carrying the body of Robert F. Kennedy from New York City to his final resting place in Washington, D.C.

The idea of riding the rails conjures romance, intrigue and drama as trains take us on collective and individual journeys--both on the page and off. 

NOTE: This article is a reprint and is being posted (in a slightly different form) with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this column as published via Shelf Awareness for Readers (11/5/13), link HERE