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 Fiction Review   

 
The Christmas Train
by David Baldacci
Warner Books
260 pages
Hardcover, 2002 $19.95 ISBN: 0-446-52573-1
Special Gold Edition Hardcover, 2003, $12.95
ISBN: 0-446-53327-0
 
 

I miss the Nancy Hanks.  It was this great train that traveled daily from Savannah to Atlanta.  The dining room had linen tablecloths with a rose in a vase on each table.  You got to meet people making the same journey for different reasons.  Sometimes you saw the same travelers, and you were amazed that the staff remembered you. The nostalgia surrounding trains is almost mystical and claims deep emotions from those who love the rails. 

The holidays require a touch of magic, and that is what David Baldacci provides in The Christmas Train.  

Amtrak has faced the death knell several times from Congress.  It can’t survive without government funding, yet receives a substantially smaller amount than America’s airlines.  Baldacci shows the pros and cons of rail travel, but in the end you realize how the slower pace of the journey can enrich your life.  On a plane you are packed like sardines and hold onto your limited space while ignoring your seatmate.  On a train, you move around the cars, dine at a table,  recline at ease in your sleeper and enjoy a shower in your compartment.  Plus, the slower pace entices you to get to know your traveling companions – share stories, play pranks, and sing carols.  

Journalist Tom Langdon must get from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles to spend Christmas with his long distance significant other.  Unfortunately, he can’t take the redeye, because he is barred from air travel after a misunderstanding at airport security.  Langdon is a descendant of Olivia Langdon, wife of Samuel Clemens aka Mark Twain. It was Tom’s father’s wish that he would complete an unfinished story by Twain about a cross-country journey by train.  What better time to write the train story as he traveled to join his lover for the holidays.   

Almost like an episode of “Love Boat” or Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express,” a cast of eccentric characters are introduced that provide moments of humor and intrigue.   There’s a poor Appalachian girl eloping with a New England student; a lonely elderly woman who roams the cars in her nightie and plays Christmas music on her portable phonograph; a movie director and entourage; a New Orleans tarot reader; a lawyer who streaks the cars in his briefs when he finds a boa constrictor in his cabin; an Arizona nudist in the lounge car; a boys’ choir and a thief.  The Amtrak staff adds much to the heart and humor of the story.  Where else could an Elvis imitator serve you cocktails or an Aretha look-a-like entertain you while solving your problems.  Tom Langston even is trapped on the cross-country train with the one woman he loved who got away.  If that isn’t enough to make you run for this book, there is an avalanche that rivals the best Irwin Allen movie you remember. 

The Christmas Train is the best promotion for Amtrak in years.  Baldacci’s journey will have you surfing to Amtrak to make your cross-country reservations.   

 

Joyce Dixon
Southern Scribe Reviews

 

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