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Stranger on a Train: Daydreaming and Smoking Around America with Interruptions Hardcover – October 4, 2002
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From Publishers Weekly
"I am not a travel writer in any reasonable sense of the word," Diski confesses. "I do not feel compelled to bring the world to people, or meet interesting characters, or enlarge my circle of acquaintance. I just want to drift in the actual landscape of my destination." Despite the disclaimer, the British novelist (Only Human) does all of the above in this eloquent exploration of the psyche America's and her own. The work is divided into two parts. Journey One begins aboard a transatlantic cargo ship where Diski is among a handful of passengers en route to Savannah, Ga. From there, she takes Amtrak to Arizona. Journey Two takes place a year later as Diski circumnavigates the U.S. from New York's Penn Station to Portland, Ore., and back, stopping in the suburbs of Albuquerque to stay in the backyard trailer of a friend from the first sojourn. As in the Hitchcock thriller of (almost) the same title, strangers whom Diski befriends in the smoking sections, or "sin bins," of the trains divulge the details of their lives; Diski, however, plays it close to the vest, sharing intimacies with readers only about her difficult childhood, struggles with substance abuse and more. "I became remarkably unhappy at having been chosen to survive," she recollects after her first trip, comparing the experience of saying goodbye to her travel mates to leaving the psych ward of England's Lady Chichester Hospital at age 14. As she did in Skating to Antarctica: A Journey to the End of the World (1998), Diski again blurs the borders between traditional travelogue and memoir to create a transcendent work.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
English novelist Diski (Only Human) mixes memoir and travelog in a sharp, vivid, but ultimately disappointing narrative written around two train journeys, one across the southern United States and the other around its perimeter. She begins each journey with seeming enthusiasm, but before long, she starts feeling that she has opened herself up too much to strangers. She then panics and withdraws, needing to hide away in her tiny cabin on the train. A short visit to the home of a woman she meets on the first journey ends in paranoid terror when Diski becomes convinced that the family won't let her leave. Intermittently, she flashes back to other times in her life, including an unhappy childhood and several episodes of severe depression. The places she visits (Phoenix, Chicago, Jacksonville) are entirely incidental to the story, the scenery is best seen through a train window, if at all, and the people she meets are unremarkable. In the end, Diski seems happiest when exiled to a dingy smoking car puffing desperately on a cigarette, heading home. Not a priority purchase. Linda M. Kaufmann, Massachusetts Coll. of Liberal Arts Lib., North Adams
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
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Top customer reviews
But the book is much more than a travel story. Diski is an amazing essayist--making connections between subjects that seemed absolutely unrelated. Added to her brilliant way of thinking is a stunning prose style.
It's no spoiler that the author has a lot to say about smoking--and all of it positive. Now I'm not the least bit in favor of smoking. I'm a lifelong non-smoker. Smoking has killed several of my friends. I'm angry about the recent disclosure that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has been promoting the smoking industry world-wide. And still, I found myself intrigued by the author's homage to her habit, which we recently learn has likely caused her own cancer and impending death. Nothing Diski writes will make anyone want to smoke, yet--like Dante--she creates a smoke-filled world that few readers will turn their backs on. Smoking is hell, but in her hands--and imagination--absolutely fascinating.
More often than not, I find myself wishing that a book ended sooner--even a book that I admire. But I was truly sad when I reached the end of STRANGER ON A STRANGER. I wanted more of Diski's philosophy, observations of the human comedy, anecdotes about sexual intrigue, vignettes about the London underground, and--yes--about smoking.
There is perhaps, as another reviewer notes, rather too much on the author’s many periods in mental-care hospitals, and the recounting of these multiple stays seemed almost nostalgic as though they proved strangely more enjoyable, or at least more comfortable for her, than the train journeys in this book.
Given the state of Amtrak these days this may well be true of course.
As a former smoker (or ‘gasper’) I can empathize with the author’s difficulties with finding somewhere in America where she could still smoke, and I recognize the importance that smoking has in giving pleasure and comfort. It is those malodorous smoking cages that the author meets the people she writes about as the puff and chat she notes the details of their lives and offers us each of those ‘stories’.
Not the book I wanted, but overall an interesting perspective on America and travel.
This book in particular gives one the pleasure of a train trip without suffering through Amtrak delays. A must-read to train travel fanciers.
Most recent customer reviews
Lots of different characters described.
Views of an English woman doing the traveling.