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The Train of Small Mercies Paperback – June 5, 2012


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 314 pages
  • Publisher: Berkley (June 5, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0425247457
  • ISBN-13: 978-0425247457
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,550,250 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

Review by Julia Glass, author of Three Junes and The Widower’s Tale

Among several impressive debut novels I’ve read in recent years, David Rowell’s is a hands-down standout; in fact, it’s hard to believe this book is his first. Like Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin—equally masterful in its plotting, equally moving in its kaleidoscopic ensemble of perspectives—The Train of Small Mercies takes us to the heart of a quiet but resonant moment in American history and, through that moment, deep into the hearts of numerous characters whose ordinary lives are touched and changed by the events of a single day.

According to an author’s note at the end of the novel, Rowell was inspired by the Paul Fusco photographs collected in the book RFK Funeral Train. In 1968, Look magazine assigned Fusco to document Robert Kennedy’s funeral in Arlington Cemetery—and to ride the train carrying the senator’s body from New York’s Penn Station to Union Station in Washington, D.C. En route, Fusco shot more than a thousand photographs of the mourners along the train tracks.

Through the eyes of imagined witnesses to the passage of that train (some intent on paying homage, others there by happenstance or obligation), Rowell creates an intricately linked chain of stories—each one utterly captivating—that coalesce into a vision of America in a year of turbulent change. Yet there is nothing “studied” or stiff about Rowell’s authentic portrait of this legendary moment in our history, and his ability to give us a window on that era through a wide range of particular viewpoints is simply stunning, whether he’s writing about a black Pullman porter whose first day on the job happens to be on the funeral train, a Vietnam vet struggling to find a new normal after losing a leg, a young Irish nanny who’d been hoping to land a job with the senator’s family, or a sixth-grade boy making the best of life after his parents’ divorce. All told, Rowell holds the reader in a state of wonder and suspense through half a dozen tales that come together gorgeously as one. The Train of Small Mercies shows us how the tiniest private moments are often inextricable from the most monumental public events, how collectively they define nothing less than history itself. What a generous and versatile imagination Rowell has; I can’t wait to see what he does next.



“[Rowell] has created nothing less than a portrait of America itself.”—Ann Patchett, author of Bel Canto


“A novel of transcendent literary vision.”—Wells Tower, author of Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned

“What a tapestry, so evocative!”—Elizabeth Strout, author of Olive Kitteridge

“[A] rich and vivid novel.” —Ron Carlson, author of The Signal

About the Author

DAVID ROWELL is an editor at The Washington Post Magazine and has taught literary journalism at American University. He lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, with his wife and sons. This is his first novel.

Customer Reviews

David Rowell does a masterful job bringing in a cast of great characters.
Cooperstown Fan
I don't usually say this about a book but I think this one might actually have been better if lengthened a bit.
Amazon Customer
The characters were well concieved, though predictable, but there were too many similarities between stories.
swimmom

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Someone Else TOP 1000 REVIEWER on September 22, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
June of 1968 was a time of great change and turmoil in America. Citizens were divided over the war in Vietnam. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been killed just a couple of months before, and the civil rights movement had to find new footing. Then Bobby Kennedy won the California presidential primary, after which he was shot by Sirhan Sirhan.

David Rowell provides a slice out of the lives of six characters and their families on June 8, 1968. Each resides in a different state where Robert Kennedy's funeral train will be passing through on that day. One character is on the train as an employee. Some of the characters are quite ordinary, perhaps too ordinary. They arrange their day around the arrival of the funeral train---squabbling, socializing, and grieving in the meanwhile. One is a Vietnam vet, recently returned home after losing a leg. I found his story to be the most compelling of the six, as he comes to terms with his loss and his family tries to project a cheery outlook for his sake.

Rowell's writing style is clear and concise. He brings in a lot of the cultural touchstones of the era, which will have sentimental value for many readers who can remember 1968. The disconnected presentation of the six story lines as the day progresses makes it a little difficult to follow. It does get easier as you continue reading and start to remember who each of the characters is. The book only covers one day in their lives, so the end feels inconclusive with respect to most of the people involved.

What I gained from the book was a greater understanding of the collective grief of the nation over the loss of Bobby Kennedy. I knew a lot about John F. Kennedy, but not so much about his brother. I had not been aware of how much hope the black community had placed in Bobby after Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By TChris TOP 100 REVIEWER on September 9, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
It's tricky to write a novel that weaves together the separate stories of an ensemble cast. Done well, the different viewpoints cohere into a meaningful whole. (I thought Colum McCann did it masterfully in Let the Great World Spin, using a tightrope walk as the focal point to intertwine stories of disparate lives.) Done poorly, the technique makes a novel read like a collection of unrelated stories. The Train of Small Mercies falls somewhere in the middle.

Robert Kennedy's funeral train is the novel's binding thread. On his first day as a porter, Lionel Chase is assigned to the train as it departs from New York. Maeve McDerdon has traveled to Washington to interview for a position as the Kennedys' nanny, an interview that is cancelled after Bobby's assassination. Delores King in Pennsylvania doesn't want her husband to know that she's taking their daughter to see the train but suffers a misfortune that threatens to expose her plan.

In New Jersey, young Michael Colvert (having returned home after his noncustodial father took him for an unauthorized visit) and his friends reenact the Kennedy assassination in their back yard. Edwin Rupp, his wife, and another Delaware couple plan to watch the train pass, but Edwin is more interested in his new above-ground pool (and in his friend's wife). The train will pass the home of Jamie West, a young man who returned from Vietnam with a missing leg, on the day he's being interviewed by a local reporter.

For many Americans, Bobby Kennedy represented hope in a time of turmoil.
Read more ›
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A book lover in Azle Texas VINE VOICE on June 30, 2012
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I have tried to get into this book in order to complete a fair review of the content. I simply cannot get into this one. It follows 6 characters and how each of them participate in the train moving thru the country carrying the body of Robert Kennedy. The book is somewhat fragmented and the stories I find to be half formed. This kept me from really getting into it and being able to complete it.
I'm sure that there are others that would disagree. I have had this one in my "to be read" stack for over a year and made three attempts at it. I'm sorry that I cannot give a better or more complete review to this one. I tried.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Joni on January 4, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is so beautifully written. The author shows great skill in taking us to a very specific time and place. The author also has the courage and restraint to not spell out ever story, instead he trusts the reader to go along for the ride and image the conclusions to some of the stories. Isn't that would good fiction should do?

The characters instantly become important to you, I found myself deeply invested in their well-being. I have given the book to several friends and even one who is 22, he knew very little about that time in our history and couldn't put it down. The fact that the book speaks to people who didn't live through that special time in our history also speaks to the power of the writing.

This book was such a satisfying experience and I highly recommend it to everyone.

Hop on the train-you will be so happy you did.-Jon
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Catherine Gander on March 20, 2013
Format: Paperback
The author paints a beautiful word picture of the turmoils and transitions of the late 60's. The roles of women are starting to change. America reacts to an unpopular war. As it does today, the divide between conservative and liberal viewpoints starkly exists. The intent of the author is not to provide a detailed study of each character but rather to present a snapshot of the country at one particular moment in time. The prose is lyrical and the story held my attention. It is a book that is difficult to put down and is an excellent debut by an author of promise.
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More About the Author

David Rowell grew up in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is the deputy editor at the Washington Post Magazine and has taught literary journalism at American University and creative writing at the Harvard Extension School. He is a former executive editor at the award-winning magazine DoubleTake, and his short stories have appeared in the anthologies Virgin Fiction and Long Story Short: Flash Fiction by Sixty-Five of North Carolina's Finest Writers. The Train of Small Mercies is his first book.