Jeanette "Astute Crabbist"'s Reviews > The Train of Small Mercies

The Train of Small Mercies by David Rowell
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Sep 15, 2011

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bookshelves: all-fiction, america, av, cultural-and-social-commentary
Read in September, 2011

June of 1968 was a time of great change and turmoil in America. Citizens were divided over the war in Vietnam. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been killed just a couple of months before, and the civil rights movement had to find new footing. Then Bobby Kennedy won the California presidential primary, after which he was shot by Sirhan Sirhan.

David Rowell provides a slice out of the lives of six characters and their families on June 8, 1968. Each resides in a different state where Robert Kennedy's funeral train will be passing through on that day. One character is on the train as an employee. Some of the characters are quite ordinary, perhaps too ordinary. They arrange their day around the arrival of the funeral train---squabbling, socializing, and grieving in the meanwhile. One is a Vietnam vet, recently returned home after losing a leg. I found his story to be the most compelling of the six, as he comes to terms with his loss and his family tries to project a cheery outlook for his sake.

Rowell's writing style is clear and concise. He brings in a lot of the cultural touchstones of the era, which will have sentimental value for many readers who can remember 1968. The disconnected presentation of the six story lines as the day progresses makes it a little difficult to follow. It does get easier as you continue reading and start to remember who each of the characters is. The book only covers one day in their lives, so the end feels inconclusive with respect to most of the people involved.

What I gained from the book was a greater understanding of the collective grief of the nation over the loss of Bobby Kennedy. I knew a lot about John F. Kennedy, but not so much about his brother. I had not been aware of how much hope the black community had placed in Bobby after Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed.
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist" Hi Chelsea! Not the greatest book, but I do think it works better for people who remember the day.


message 2: by Sue (new) - added it

Sue I was mid way through college that summer. It really did seem like everything was falling apart. I remember watching the funeral train on TV. Perhaps I should add this too.

Your reviews really do give a sense of the book Jeanette. Thanks.


message 3: by Sue (new) - added it

Sue I just read Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President about the death of President Garfield. There was a funeral train there that brought visions of RFK's to my mind.


Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist" Sue wrote: "I was mid way through college that summer. It really did seem like everything was falling apart. I remember watching the funeral train on TV. Perhaps I should add this too.

Your reviews really do ..."


I was probably learning to ride a bike or some such thing that summer. ;-) If I heard that Bobby Kennedy was killed, it didn't register on my little girl brain.


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