cover image The Train Home

The Train Home

Susan Shreve. Nan A. Talese, $19 (262pp) ISBN 978-0-385-42357-1

In a bold but ultimately unsuccessful departure from such previous novels as Daughters of the New World , Shreve tries for the magical tone of Shakespearean romance but ends up with a thin plot whose improbable coincidences accord poorly with her protagonists' grim experiences. Set in contemporary Washington, D.C., the tale begins as opera singer Annie Blakemore, dashing to catch the metro back to her home in Tenleytown, sees and is instantly attracted to a handsome man in priest's garb. Impulsively, she follows him when he exits the train; as their paths cross and recross over the course of three days, Shreve reveals the pair's individual histories. He is actually an Irish actor, Will Huston, who has journeyed to America to avenge the death of his brother Jamey, shot during a 1969 civil rights march in Ulster. Annie, the daughter of a drunken migrant worker, is saddled with a vindictive, wheelchair-bound husband who terrorizes her and their children with frightening psychological game-playing. Neither the departure of Annie's husband nor Will's confrontation with the man who killed Jamey resolves any of the emotional issues the story has raised, and few sparks are struck when the lovers-to-be finally meet (in the last chapter) on a train bound for New York. The author's desire to take risks and strike out in a new direction is admirable, but this novel is a disappointment. Literary Guild and Doubleday Book Club alternates; author tour. ( Aug. )