By Mark Fine on August 31, 2015
Format: Kindle EditionThere are times it takes great courage to write, especially when the events are personal—a major human-made catastrophe. Add to it a fictional focus is on the bleaker side of the human condition, and you have a book steeped with gravitas. This certainly is the case in author, Neil Newton’s tough novel, The Railroad. Unflinchingly he takes on two biggies: First, the devastating destruction of the Twin Towers. This shattered the psyche of a nation, a city, and countless individuals, including the leading character at the epicenter of the story. 9/11 was an impersonal attack by virulent strangers, tainted with a flawed ideology that showed no concern for their victims.
But the author also faces down another scourge that is immensely more personal. The abuse of spouse and child by someone who intimately knew them, someone bound by marriage vows and decency to protect them under his roof, but chose instead to be their intimate predator.
The decision by Mr. Newton write this intriguing book in the first person is extremely effective. It gives the novel an inescapable sense of immediacy, and doesn’t allow our protagonist Mike Dobbs to hide his flaws. Unflinchingly through his eyes we experience each misstep, each misgiving and every hangover. This is consistent with Dobbs’ emotional decline as a result of his narrow escape down in the depths of the subway system when the Twin Towers collapsed about him. The once go-go ambitious New Yorker is instantly a shell of his former self, echoing much of the dislocation experienced by his fellow Manhattan dwellers. From the perspective of Dobbs we witness the unrelenting decay of his life, an understandable consequence of his dramatic 9/11's near death experience—but his wife and friends don’t quite get it. Too much drinking, fractured relationships and spiraling depression become his pattern. Not pretty.
Then circumstances deliver two strangers to his doorstep; there stands a mother and her seven year old daughter, both on the run from a narcissistic man who was meant to have protected them, instead he’d abused them. Though never invited into the cesspool Dobbs’ is compelled to get involved. Dobbs finds himself now facing an immediate villain, immensely more tangible compared to the faceless terrorists that had harmed his nation. With a new sense of purpose Mike Dobbs’ discovers that by necessity his reclusive ways are a thing of the past. As strangers seeking shelter under his roof, the mother/ daughter pair had given Dobbs a gift; they’d reignited his interest in life. Yes, Mike Dobbs had finally begun to care again.
All that was wonderful, until one day Eileen and Megan disappeared.
Without being heavy handed, author Neil Newton allows the pall of post 9/11 New York City to permeate the pages of the book—cleverly. In order that the reader would better appreciate the suffocating portrayal of abuse he uses the 9/11 catastrophe to embody the collective violation we as a nation had felt that ghastly day. In this way, though thankfully never explicit, the author succeeds in atmospherically giving us a sense of Eileen and Megan’s horror and desperation. And it’s through this veil of horror and the bottom of a bourbon glass, the ill-prepared Dobbs, is driven to right the awful wrong inflicted on the two girls he has learned to love. And so his quest begins to find the missing Eileen and her daughter Megan—and combat the unwanted attentions of an intimidating and dangerous ex-husband.
Sometimes nightmarishly Kafkaesque, the hunt takes Mike Dobb's up along the East Coast seaboard where he confronts cagey lawyers, hired thugs, suspicious small town citizens, and an apparent murderer systematically hunting down the female victims of abuse. Compelling stuff! I strenuously encourage other readers to join Mike Dobbs on his gritty mission to find Eileen and Megan before it’s too late. I certainly found it well worth the journey.