The View from a Rusty Train Car

By: DeeJay Arens

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Synopsis

From the day Jared Montgomery moved in across the street from Luke Morrison when they were only eleven years old, the two boys became fast and inseparable friends. They did nearly everything together, including building a tree fort, but their favorite secret hideout was the old abandoned train car behind the junkyard. It was there that they spent hours playing and sharing their lives, and as they got older, the place took on a special new meaning. By the time they were teens, Jared and Luke knew they had fallen in love. For Jared, the realization was a relatively easy one to accept, even though he kept it from his family who wouldn't have understood. For Luke though, it was always a struggle to accept being gay, but it was a battle he was mostly winning until the day that his mom placed him in a camp that was supposed to "fix" boys like him. From that point on, everything changed for these two young men. Their lives diverged onto very different paths as Jared, thinking his best friend and lover had abandoned him, moved halfway across the country to attend college, where he met and became involved with another man. Then Luke returned to their hometown, determined that the only "right" course of action for him was to enter into a traditional marriage with a woman. The choices these two men make over the next several years profoundly and irrevocably change not only their lives, but the lives of everyone they love. When Luke finds himself in a battle for his very life, will Jared find it in his heart to forgive the best friend he ever had and return to his side before it's too late?

Review

The View from a Rusty Train Car is a very moving and emotional story of two young boys who became inseparable best friends, and in doing so, discovered a love for one another of which their families and society did not approve. It ended up being a heart-wrenching, tearjerker of a read that I was not expecting when I started it. Perhaps because a few GoodReads users had this book shelved as M/M romance, I began reading it under the mistaken impression that it was a romance, but it really isn't. It's a coming of age story. It's a dramatic story about friendship and family connections. It's a story about why it's so important to be true to ourselves. Most of all, I saw it as a story about how the choices we make in life can adversely affect not only ourselves, but also everyone we care about and sometimes even those we love the most. It does have a romantic element to it, and it is a story about undying love, but at its heart, this is definitely not a romance. Why, you may ask? Well, simply because it doesn't follow the typical romance formula of readers getting to know the two main characters as they are getting to know each other, watching them as they go through the stages of courtship and falling in love, and eventually ending with marriage or a permanent commitment that leads to an HEA ending. The View from a Rusty Train Car follows the two main protagonists through more than a decade of their lives from childhood well into adulthood. It follows them through the ups and downs of their relationship and the choices they make that ultimately keep them apart for several years. And while it has an optimistic ending for one of them, there was no future for them together, which left me feeling depressed and heartbroken.

Jared moved into Luke's neighborhood when they were only eleven years old. They became fast friends who were inseparable and did nearly everything together. They built a tree fort, but their special, secret hideout was inside the old rusty train car behind the junkyard. There, they spent hours playing, and it became a place where they could escape the world around them and just be with each other. Having this secret spot became increasingly important as they grew older and realized they were falling in love. From a very early age, Jared knew what he wanted and that was to marry Luke, although of course, in his young innocence, he didn't understand that his dream would be impossible in the era in which they lived (the late 1980's and 1990's). As his understanding increased with age, Jared kept his sexual identity to himself, but he pretty much always accepted the fact that he was gay. Luke, on the other hand, knew he loved Jared and a part of him wanted the same thing Jared did, but he struggled more with his sexuality and with feelings that his desires weren't right. This only got worse when his strict mother discovered Luke's love for Jared and forced him into a boy's camp that was designed to "fix" him. He was in the camp for a year, during which Jared believed Luke had abandoned him and their love. After that, they saw each other in person only once within the next five years, and it was a disastrous meeting that ended in heartbreak for both of them. By then, Jared had moved to Seattle to attend college and had begun a relationship with another man, while Luke had returned from the camp, believing that the only right thing for him to do was to enter into a traditional marriage with a woman. The next few years were difficult ones for both of them, especially Luke, whose health went into a steep decline. His ailment is never named, but given that his heart is failing, I think the author was using it as a metaphor for a broken heart. Reading about Luke in that state, broke my own heart into a million pieces, and while I understood Jared's anger, I felt like he held a grudge for too long. That ends up being one of those many choices I mentioned that he has to learn to live with.

I was very moved by Jared and Luke's story, and I liked them both very much. However, I still couldn't help feeling like the author could have deepened their characterizations a little more. We know that they love with their whole being, which is something I can admire. We also understand how much of a strain their relationship and Luke's inability to embrace it affects them, on both a physical and emotional level, but we learn precious little about each of them as individuals outside of their relationship to one another. We learn a little about their outside interests as the story progresses, but what I really wanted to know was what their temperaments were like and what their hopes and dreams for the future were. Their individual personalities didn't quite come to life for me in the way the characters in some other stories have. In fact, I don't even recall the author giving any physical description of either young man at any point in the story, so I had to envision them in my own way. Then toward the very end, he finally mentions that Luke is blonde when I'd been imagining him as having dark hair.

The main reason, however, that I gave this book four stars instead of the full five is that I thought the writing itself could have been stronger in places. First, the blocking (showing where a character is and what they're doing) during dialog often felt choppy and inconsistent. One minute the character might be standing in one place and the next they're clear across the room, or in one paragraph, they're sitting down and two paragraphs later, they're sitting down again. More action details and more attention to continuity were sorely needed to clearly envision these scenes. My next issue is that the author frequently has the characters talking out loud to themselves. In these instances, I think it would have been more beneficial to deepen their internal introspection instead, which probably would have also taken care of my earlier problem with feeling like I didn't get to know the characters as well as I would have liked. Another small problem is some repetition in the form of pretty much all the characters who have any significant page time crying a lot, and everyone doing way too much "sneering." My final minor complaint is that Jared is basically telling his and Luke's story before a Senate hearing, so there are a few passages throughout written in first person POV to denote the present day. However, there is virtually nothing to indicate exactly what he's doing until the final chapter. If I hadn't read the cover blurb before reading the book, I wouldn't have had a clue what was going on in those scenes, so actually stating what he was doing earlier would have been helpful. Better editing overall would have cleared up most of these problems and shaped the book into one that I easily could have said was a perfect read.

Otherwise, as I've already mentioned, The View from a Rusty Train Car is a poignant story that makes some very powerful statements about society's views of GLBT people. Even though we've come a long way since the time in which this story was set, there is still much progress yet to be made. One can't help wondering if the climate for gay men had been more friendly, whether Jared and Luke's story would have turned out much differently. As I read this book, I couldn't help feeling like these two men and what they went through was quite real, like this same story of "forbidden love" had probably played out in some form or another all down through the ages. It's also a potent reminder that we must always be vigilant in our choices, because they can affect so many different people in our lives. It also reminds us of the need for forgiveness and not holding grudges, because someday we may find it's too late to make things right. As an aside, I need to mention that I really love the title of this book. It's very creative and fitting, as that old rusty train car became an iconic symbol of Jared and Luke's love for each other. I'm not entirely sure if I would read The View from a Rusty Train Car again, because of how sad it made me feel. However, for all the reasons I mentioned, I would definitely recommend it to anyone who doesn't mind more realistic, tearjerker stories, as well as anyone who might be interested in GLBT issues or who might be willing to challenge themselves to view GLBT people in a different way. It is my fervent belief that everyone should be treated equally and given the same rights, that they should be allowed to be who they are and love who they love, and this book makes a very strong case for that.

Note: I received a copy of this book from the author via Book Review Buzz in exchange for an honest review.

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DeeJay Arens