From Publishers Weekly
The title of Carter's sympathetic if somewhat contrived debut novel (she's the author of a memoir, Nothing to Fall Back On
) refers to the first New York–to–Miami passenger train, a not-so-subtle metaphor for the American dream and the forward march of history, as the story hurtles from the late '50s and into the '80s. In 1958, comely widow Tessie Lockhart and her seventh-grade daughter, Dinah, uproot from Carbondale, Ill., to Gainesville, Fla., driven by a very American faith in the healing power of a fresh start. There, their lives intertwine with those of Gainesville's powerful Landy family, as Dinah's popular classmate Crystal Landy and her solemn older brother, Charlie, befriend Dinah. When the Landys' house burns down, killing their father, Dinah and Crystal form a special bond, speaking "the same language of loss" across the divide of class and social status. Even Tessie and supercilious matriarch Victoria Landy cement a rocky friendship, and over the years, a tumultuous love blossoms between Dinah and Charlie. Carter's plot skips lightly over the passing decades, which are marked by periodic eruptions of changing culture. Each incident of racial strife or Vietnam tragedy feels forced and representative, though, and as the novel barrels into the late–20th century like the titular locomotive, Carter sacrifices character development in her reach for historical import.
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Justly praised for her candid, humorous memoir, Nothing to Fall Back On
(2002), magazine writer and editor Carter tries her hand at fiction in this affecting tale of widow Tess and her daughter, Dinah, who relocate to Gainesville, Florida, in 1958. They are soon virtually adopted by the wealthy Landy family, which includes pampered mom Victoria; teenager Charlie, who has the gift of second sight; and overweight, sassy seventh-grader Crystal. As the Landys help to ease their transition into southern small-town culture, Tess lands a good job and finds love with a jai alai mogul, and Dinah finds her soul mate in Charlie. Over the next two decades, they must all confront the changes brought on by Victoria's new business venture and Crystal's distress over Dinah and Charlie's relationship. The plot of this first novel seems overly thin at times, and the transitions between decades are sometimes too abrupt; yet there's no denying that the characters, drawn with fresh, often idiosyncratic detail, are instantly engaging. A light, funny read that also offers a distinctive sense of place. Joanne WilkinsonCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved