Friday, December 16, 2011

book review: The Train of Small Mercies by David Rowell

The basics: The Train of Small Mercies follows the lives of ordinary Americans in each state along the path of Bobby Kennedy's funeral train from Boston to his burial in Washington, D.C.

My thoughts: Bobby is one of my all-time favorite movies, and this novel takes a somewhat similar approach. The film follows numerous people in the hotel the day Bobby Kennedy was shot. To me, The Train of Small Mercies feels like a continuation of the film. Admittedly, I'm quite fond of the-day-in-the-life approach, but Rowell approached this day brilliantly and captured the spirit and energy of the time. The stories were quite varied, as were the main characters. This contrast was quite moving, as the reader gets to see a myriad of ways people felt connected to Bobby.

I was relieved the stories were mixed throughout the narrative. We lived through the day of the funeral train with different people, but we got to see their days, both the ordinary and the extraordinary. As is often the case with multiple narratives, some were most interesting than others, but all of them were emotionally

Favorite passage: "Yes, you said capturing people. Let me ask you a silly question. Why would anyone want to do that? What do you do with that, capturing a soul? You have to be really interested in people to do that sort of thing, I would imagine. Maybe that's why I'm not much of a connoisseur. I don't like art with people in it."

The verdict: The Train of Small Mercies is a moving novel. Although the characters and details are already starting to slip from my memory, the mood, power and brilliance will stick with me for a long time. Highly recommended, especially for fans of modern history and character-driven fiction.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 272 pages
Publication date: October 13, 2011
Source: publisher, via LibraryThing Early Reviews

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  1. I agree with everything you said. I liked this one very much.

  2. I put this on my Christmas list, so I'm glad to hear you liked it!! I know what you mean about not remembering the details of the stories but the mood of the book. Sounds great! I'm definitely a fan of modern history and character studies.

  3. I had not heard much about this book before reading your review, but after reading your thoughts on it, and the quote you provided, I think it would be a very interesting book for me to explore. Thanks for the excellent and very thoughtful review!

  4. Thanks for the review. After hearing about the book on a radio show last week I ordered it and now I find myself reading reviews in anticipation. The show, The Book Report, doesnt air in your area, but host Elaine Charles is just great. I just catch the show in the archives on their website at


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