A story of a man emerging from the wreckage that 9/11 made of his life, may not sound the most enticing premise for a story. Indeed, it may appear quite self-indulgent and depressing, but The Railroad is not such a book. Mr Newton has written an explosive and emotionally-charged tome that tugged with continuous regularity at my heart strings.
Mike Dobbs, the lead character is a survivor of the catastrophic tragedy of 9/11. Caught in the subway just underneath the Twin Towers at the time of the attack, it is soon apparent that Dobbs is anything but a survivor. Half of him has been shattered to pieces, and the other half is guilty he's still alive, when so many he knew perished. He has a void inside that can’t be filled despite Dobbs’ attempts to fill it with copious amounts of alcohol. It leads him to face a sudden reality, his life is futile and pathetic. His Wall Street raider persona is stripped away ruthlessly by the dust of the blast, and what remains is a husk barely comprehending a meaning to life beyond the bottom of a bottle of Laphroaig. His job, love life and friends are left behind as Dobbs heads for a life in the ‘burbs of Bardstown, and his weekend retreat bought with his yuppie money. A place as ugly as his own soul has become.
Whilst Dobbs descends in to his own purgatory, chilling abductions of parents running from spouses who have abused their sons/daughters are detailed. They are interlaced into the story with a jarring regularity that takes the reader out of the mind-set of someone copying with PTSD. This story is much greater than that. Mr Newton’s excellent story-telling skills weave a story of complexity and intrigue, to keep the pages turning. This is not a second-guess book, as there are gear shifts continuously, forcing new hypotheses to emerge, new considerations to be sought.
Mike Dobbs is a man going through a transformation, and the stages of that change state are brought to life with vivid and immersive description. There are times when reading The Railroad that I felt the frustration that Dobbs experienced when all the legal doors were closed. Not giving any spoilers away, but Dobbs faces down a sick and evil individual with courage and given the fact he’s drunk most of the time, a show of smart, incisive thinking. This capability is borne out of necessity. Dobbs is on a crusade to save the lives of those he loved but for a fleeting moment. Intrinsic to his transformation to a state of inner peace, is a journey that Dobbs goes on, into the wilderness that is the Maine, to save his loved ones and at the same time, himself.
An extraordinary journey with an amazing denouement. A note to Mr Newton’s genius is the change of voice at the end. A nuance that may be lost in the melee of the final realisation, but one which exemplifies the change point beautifully. A stunning debut novel and one that I highly recommend. I look forward to reading more from Mr Newton in the future.
Michelle enjoys hearing people and she'd love to hear from you, so why not email her here or contact her using the form on this page.
Stay forever connected.