The Train of Small Mercies

The Train of Small Mercies, David Rowell's first novel, unfolds on June 8, 1968, the day of Senator Bobby Kennedy's funeral, focusing on the passage of his funeral train as seen by six unrelated, "ordinary people," each of whom is fighting a personal inner battle as well as expecting or dreading the passing of the train through their lives. Rowell's cast includes a 10-year-old boy still nursing confusion over his parents' divorce and a housewife trying to sneak out of the house long enough to bid Kennedy goodbye. There's also an Irish immigrant facing the prospect of losing her interview for a nanny position with the Kennedy family, and a Pullman porter whose first day of work is on the train to Washington, D.C., carrying the assassinated presidential candidate to his final resting place.

Rowell captures a truth about public grief in America: when we lose a public figure, we may grieve in concert, but we do not do it together. Each of the six characters is aware that seeing the Kennedy train pass is a group event; none of them experiences that moment physically alone. Yet all six find, at that moment, that they are isolated within their own minds in a way that merely gathering in a crowd cannot remedy. The Train of Small Mercies captures the individual yet quintessentially human experience of grief. --Dani Alexis Ryskamp, blogger at Intractable Bibliophilia

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