TRACKS by Eric Goodman

Eric Goodman’s Tracks is an homage to train travel, a novel told in stories about passengers on a train from Baltimore to Chicago. The characters are diverse – a Holocaust survivor, a hit man trying to retire, a traveling salesman, a train conductor, to name a few – but they all come together in the lounge car of the Amtrak Cardinal, and their stories occasionally intersect and intertwine.

I found the individual storylines pretty interesting. I enjoyed learning the background for each person, as well as what brought them to that particular train on that day. Train travel that far of a distance is definitely an anomaly, so Goodman had the challenge of coming up with plausible reasons for each of the characters to be using such an old-fashioned mode of transport. So why train travel? It affords Goodman’s characters the chance to reflect on their lives, to consider the choices they’ve made so far as well how they might change their lives. The length of a train ride allows the characters to interact as well, whether for a one-night stand or simply for conversation. For the most part, Goodman succeeded in creating this microcosm, although occasionally the plot construct felt a little staged, almost theatrical.

Baltimore and Chicago also play a role in Tracks, as most of the characters lived in one city or the other, and their feelings about their city of departure and/or destination were part of their reflections on the trip.

I liked Goodman’s writing, which is descriptive and flows easily, although sometimes he repeated himself as each character came across the others on the train. I think the strength of the book was the cast of characters, who were quite memorable for a short story collection. Often when I finish a collection of stories, I look back and the characters seem to run together, blending into one borderless whole. But the characters in Tracks have remained distinct to me upon finishing the book. Their stories are unexpected and unique, which made them memorable beyond their short allotment of pages.

Thanks to Atticus Books for proving me a review copy of Tracks. It was a refreshing read, thanks to a memorable cast of characters and a unique setting and construction.