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Culture and Arts

Culture Watch

by Laura Haywood

In this issue:

 

The Christmas Train by David Baldacci.
Warner Books. 260 pages

Writing a Christmas story isn't easy. The problem is escaping the Scrooge syndrome, where a bitter or cynical or pragmatic old or young man or woman regards Christmas with indifference or outright distaste, or has his or her normal pleasure in the holiday ruined by unfortunate events. Think about A Christmas Carol, Miracle on 34th Street, or It's a Wonderful Life, for example. They find different ways of getting from "Bah, humbug" to "God Bless us everyone," but they're all essentially the same conflict.

John Grisham tried a Christmas tale, Skipping Christmas, last year and that, too, was a variation on the Scrooge theme and not a very believable one. David Baldacci's holiday book, The Christmas Train, is different. The Scrooge theme is totally absent because the book isn't so much about Christmas as simply set at Christmas time.

The hero, Tom Langdon, is a freelance writer traveling by train from Washington, DC to Los Angeles for three reasons. He's on his way to spend Christmas skiing with current girl friend, Leila; he's writing an article on transcontinental train travel; and he's been banned from flying in the US because of an unfortunate incident involving airport security at La Guardia Airport. But aboard the train is Eleanor, the woman Tom loved and lost some years ago and has never forgotten. Eleanor is a writer working for Max, a Hollywood director also aboard the train, who is gathering material for a film about transcontinental train travel. Max immediately suggests Tom and Eleanor work together, a suggestion Eleanor receives with all the pleasure of a child getting underwear for Christmas. She wants no part of Tom, and he's devastated.

The cast of characters on the train is a rich one. In addition to Max and his entourage, there's a young couple who are getting married on the train; Agnes Joe, a large, loud woman who regularly rides the train; a retired priest; a boys' choir, a man in coach who wants to sleep naked; Herrick Higgens, a former railroad man who was laid off in a downsizing; and an obnoxious lawyer. And, along the way, Leila joins the passengers she's flown in from Los Angeles to propose marriage to Tom, who is appalled by both her appearance and her proposal. The train staff is also fascinating, particularly Regina, the porter on the Capitol Limited from Washington to Chicago, and her mother Roxanne, who heads the train staff on the Southwest Chief.

The trip to Chicago is marred by a series of thefts and a delay caused by a stopped freight train. The trip from Chicago to Los Angeles includes the wedding in which Tom and Eleanor wind up as best man and bridesmaid, more thefts, and a record-breaking blizzard that traps the Chief in the snow.

The Christmas Train may not be great literature, but it is a feel-good page-turner filled with happy endings. It also has a twist at the end that is delightful. If you like a good story or if you or people on your gift list are train buffs head to a book store immediately to buy The Christmas Train.


Laura W. Haywood is a graduate of Finch College. Her career includes representing newspapers for national advertising when she was the only woman repping papers in New York at the time. Stints in public relations and development followed at Jacksonville and Princeton Universities as well as one in public relations for a major corporation. Laura's fiction and poetry has won a number of prizes and has appeared in The New York Times ("Metropolitan Diary"), Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Galaxy, Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, and a number of other magazines and anthologies. She edited or co-edited (with Isaac Asimov) two science fiction and one mystery anthology. Laura is the author of the recently published novel "The Honor of the Ken."

Laura can be reached by email: lwhaywood@aol.com

 

©2002 Laura Haywood for SeniorWomenWeb
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