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By Stephen Lloyd Auslender

IR Rating:
Full of entertaining scenes and a strong central character, Stephen Lloyd Auslender's THE STREAMLINED LOCOMOTIVE is an amusing look at how not to run a railroad during the war in the USA.

As the USA enters World War II, an indolent heir to a railroad company has to oversee the invention of a new train to save his fortune and avoid the draft.

“I did not want to grow up and be a responsible ‘executive.’ I liked being an adult child, doing minor little things where success was almost as insignificant as failure,” says Theopolis P. Bezelbottom, the protagonist of Stephen Lloyd Auslender’s novel THE STREAMLINED LOCOMOTIVE. It’s 1942, the US has just entered the war and Bezelbottom’s fear of the draft is enough to finally make him engage with his responsibilities. He is, after all, heir to the Hawgwaller and Western Railroad Company Inc and ultimately Hawgwaller county itself. At the bottom end of a family business, Theopolis has been tasked with ensuring his uncle Aloysius’s crackpot schemes don’t bankrupt the county railway.

The Hawgwaller and Western is a small railroad, servicing local coal mines and oil fields in the state but it’s a feeder to the major railroads that pass though, most notably the Chicago, Pacific, and Eastern Railroad. And this railroad, crucially, is also owned by the Bezelbottom clan. Now Uncle Throckmorton P. Bezelbottom, the head of the entire family is insisting that Theopolis finally proves his worth by actioning an ambitious, perhaps foolhardy, plan to create a brand new streamlined passenger train for their tiny county railroad just as the country is diverting its industry and materials to the war effort.
To aid this plan there is a delegation from an obscure European country called Vulgaria. A country surrounded by mountains, impenetrable to most outsiders except those who arrive by accident. Uninfluenced by the more regular design patterns of the world at large, this isolation has seen Vulgaria develop numerous highly unusual vehicles and armaments. The Vulgarians seem to be the perfect accomplices for Aloysius’s visionary plan. But are they?

THE STREAMLINED LOCOMOTIVE is a generally enjoyable comic novel. It’s written in an idiosyncratic, slightly clumsy, prose style which can delight at times but also has a tendency to confuse. The mannered first person narrative and the convolutions of what is in essence a very simple plot combine to infuriate as often as it entertains. It almost plays like a shaggy dog story with multiple diversions, asides and irrelevancies. In places it works as Theopolis is an entertaining wastrel with a quick wit and is wont to acerbic remarks. As a central character he is excellent, indeed it wouldn’t go too far to suggest he is far stronger than the book in which he finds himself. Most often the novel verges on zany for the sake of it and the story plods along frustratingly slowly towards a fairly predictable ending.
Auslender satirizes some of the thinking of the period by playing with caricature. There are a lot of very good scenes in which he upends ideas of class and entitlement. But without any really dramatic flashpoints to break up the story it is all a rather one-paced journey. And though it is rich in wry humor it rather lacks the laugh out loud moments that could have sped things along.

Full of entertaining scenes and a strong central character, Stephen Lloyd Auslender’s THE STREAMLINED LOCOMOTIVE is an amusing look at how not to run a railroad during the war in the USA.

~Kent Lane for IndieReader

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