Today’s Audiobook adventure comes from the mind of Eric W. Peterson. Today I’m reviewing “The Dining Car,” and I purchased this myself from Audible. One of the reasons that this book grabbed my attention is the cover. I don’t often talk about book covers, but I liked this one. The font, for example, has a striking sort of tone to it, and it pairs lovely with the picture of the inside of the train car.
I’d like to give some context to this story without any spoilers before I go into the review. “The Dining Car” is a story about Jack, who happens to find himself through a fantastic way, employed by a wealthy magazine columnist, Horace Button. Horace’s life is one of wealth and comfort, and he lives on a beautiful old-fashioned rail car. This story is set in modern times and feels similar to “The Great Gatsby” with “The Food Network” in bits, mixed with a splash of modern political news coverage. Along the journey, Horace eventually deals with a situation involving his sister. Jack eventually comes to a point in choosing what path he wants to go down to enrich his life. Overall, the story has a beautiful theme, that a family is not always who you are blood-related to; it’s sometimes who you pick for yourself.
Now, let’s get into this review! I will begin with some critiques I have, and one has to do with a tension factor that is placed during the story after the first act, a subplot. The tension has to do with a particular character getting to another character in a matter of time to do something in another place but finding themselves stuck between things. My issue with this tension factor is it’s one of those “Ticking Clock” tropes that are often used in stories to add a kind of pressure to a character. If the foundation to set up the trope isn’t perfect, the “Ticking Clock” feels contrived and can leave a reader confused or dissatisfied.
For “The Dining Car” specifically, this “Ticking Clock” involves two people, and to keep from having spoilers, I’m calling them “Person A” and “Person B.” For me, “Person A” never actually was into “Person B” enough to make this entire situation worth discussing, let alone put a clock on it. It came across insincere due to the circumstances where “Person B” was overdoing their hand in trying to get “Person A” in the first place. The main breakdown from what I took away, “Person A” wanted employment, “Person B” wanted a different kind of arrangement. “Person A” caved for some reason that is still beyond me and set into motion the “Ticking Clock.”
I didn’t like how this came together. It was a great way to add tension to scenes at times, but in the back of my mind, as I read it, I constantly questioned the foundation. Why were they even getting together? That’s the question I kept asking myself. It was so apparent to me, despite some injected parts where it felt added later to give some kind of foundation, but it just didn’t come together enough to believe it. Thus, if a reader or listener is questioning the foundation of a theme or plotline, or whatever it is from the get-go, it breaks the tension. I had to stop, rewind and sometimes relisten because I kept thinking about the lack of foundation, and it distracted me at times.
And that, my friends, is it on the critiques. It’s small, but it was sometimes distracting, but it was the only one I had.
So now let me go into what I loved about “The Dining Car.” I like trains, and this book is chalked full of train goodness. There is a sense from the reader or listener’s perspective that you are part of the train. Listening to this story made me into an unseen character. I was the fly on the wall; I was in “The Pioneer Mother” listening to the stories, I was a part of the parties, enjoying the sound of the shaker at the bar being put together and the martini’s being poured. I loved that immersive element to “The Dining Car.”
Another thing I really loved was how the character development went along with all of the characters. From a side character not meant to be there long in the story, every character, to a character who was the main character, had an authentic voice and person in this story. One of those characters is the train car itself, “The Pioneer Mother,” and she is just as much a part of this story as Jack or Horrace is. I really enjoyed the character and feel of every piece in this tale, and the settings were so colorful and well done so that each character could move through the story.
Next, I adore when a writer tells me what I am smelling, hearing, or sensing in a scene. This story has a lot of that. There are so much gourmet food and perfectly crafted cocktails that I felt I would gain weight. I was part of it all by listening to it. It was fantastic, and I can see why this book won awards. It has all those elements that make a book stand out for wining things.
My favorite part of the story is the blend of emotions that come in. There is anxiety, humor, grieving, and even longing deeply embedded in the tale’s fabric. At one point, because Horrace is a gourmet, he has quail and scrambled eggs for breakfast in the most bougie sort of breakfast imaginable. His niece is appalled by the idea of the quail on a plate, and she asks, “What if the Quail’s family misses this Quail?” I got a very deeply familiar vibe. My son is a picky eater. Anyone with a picky eater knows that sometimes you can’t sneak in some foods without questions. And like Horrace’s niece, my son asks existential questions about broccoli or other vegetables and, that’s when conversations about “It’s cooked, just eat it” come into play. This grounded and realistic question from a child is a detailed example of what makes this story so alive. The grieving sequences, make sense and I can tell that a lot of attention was given to those details as much as the story outline was.
Finally, can I swoon over the narrator, Graham Hamilton? He had such an excellent vocal range in this story. His voice was deep where it needed to be, comical at times, and even in drinking sequences, I could hear him stretching to make it sound that there were inebriated characters versus the sober ones. Graham’s vocal mastery did justice to an 11-year-old girl and made audio antique gold out of a high society widow. I truly enjoyed his performance. I may look for other books that he narrated only because he narrated them.
Overall, I am scoring “The Dining Car” with a 94% on my scale, and that’s a 5-Star Review. I highly recommend “The Dining Car” on anyone’s reading or listening list. This is an award-winning book, and I feel anyone who reads it or listens to it would find a satisfying fiction to relax with. I’m putting it on my Recommended list, the first in my Audible Reviews. Enjoy!