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Sunday, January 22, 2017


Links to Reviews and Amazon updated:
On a long, straight stretch of causeway approaching Sacramento, California, the railroad runs parallel to Interstate 80.  For drivers on the highway that Tuesday morning in August, the old Pullman hitching a ride on the back of the California Zephyr must have seemed an oddity—an antique running at breakneck speed, hanging on for dear life, looking frilly and absurd as if some time-traveler’s experiment had gone horribly wrong.

The Pioneer Mother was no more anachronistic or improbable than its demanding passenger, but tending bar aboard this vintage railcar suited me.  For once, I was free to reflect on ground covered without guilt or self-rebuke.  I relished seeing the endless thread of receding, creosote-stained track, the golden rolling foothills and heavily forested canyons east of Sacramento, the tunnels that plunged us into blackness and then yielded us, just as suddenly, into bright sunlight.  With each passing mile, I was shedding my incriminatory past as a snake sheds its skin.

In the serpentine curves of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, hugging sheer granite cliffs, the train slowed to a crawl.  Then, on Donner Pass, we cleared a long snow shed and came to a dead stop.  We sat for nearly an hour under a chairlift at the deserted Sugar Bowl Ski Resort, where high weeds and blue lupine flowers overgrew the detached chairs that were scattered haphazardly around the bottom terminal of a lift.  Frequent stops for no apparent reason, slowdowns on extended stretches of track, long-drawn-out delays on sidings while waiting for an oncoming train to pass—these things did not bother me, but they drove Wanda mad.

“Who the hell’s operating this thing?” she said.  “A stoned sloth?”

Working behind the stoves in the cramped galley, Wanda’s trains always ran on time.  She could flawlessly choreograph a four-course meal without seeming to think about it, but you wouldn’t know it by the way she trash-talked her work. 

“Dog vomit,” she said, poking at the sauce béarnaise.  

“Monkey piss,” she said, dipping a finger into a pot of consommé Julienne.  “Regurgitated hog maw,” she said, taking a tray of potatoes au gratin from the oven. “Flush hard, ladies and gentlemen of the Zephyr,” she said. “It’s a long way to Mother’s galley.” She held her nose, she fanned the air with kitchen towels, she sneered at the plates of food as they went out. 

From the other side of the pass-through, I watched her closely. I listened for her voice. In my former world, the world of pampered, Division 1 college athletes, humility was a rare trait. If I was moderately attracted to this woman, I dismissed it as early onset of Stockholm syndrome—the hostage falling for his captor.

I threw myself into my bartending duties without regard to where we were headed or when we would get there.  My future was squarely in the hands of my eccentric employer, a quirky chef, and the crew of the train to which we were yoked. 
The Zephyr left Reno nearly two hours late.  ##

Novelist Eric Peterson serves up a rollicking tale of Amtrak trains, haute cuisine, and bewitching women
A third-generation Californian, Eric Peterson attended the University of California at San Diego. He completed his Communication degree at Stanford, majoring in journalism. During his college days in San Diego, he worked for Amtrak, where, while slinging suitcases aboard luggage cars, he witnessed more than a few impressive parties playing out on the open platforms of private railroad cars.
Peterson realized his dream of becoming a novelist in 2009, after years spent working for a venture partnership, founding a software company, and running a fine-dining restaurant. His debut novel, Life as a Sandwich, was a finalist in the San Diego Book Awards; The Dining Car is his second novel, and the fifth book from Huckleberry House, a San Diego based book publishing firm.

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Reviewed by Joel R. Dennstedt for Readers' Favorite

 One reader of Eric Peterson’s novel, The Dining Car, describes perfectly the nature of its central character Horace Button - a celebrity editorialist on all things cultural but specifically gastronomical - as Falstaffian. Physically huge and attitudinally challenged, a drinker par excellence, Horace provides the gravitational focus around which this book and its dazzling characters revolve.

Even the narrator of this story, a conscripted bartender for Horace’s uniquely chosen manner of transportation - a handsomely reconstituted, elegant, 1932 Pullman-built, private railroad car - cannot escape the black-hole entrapment of Horace’s over-sized personal charisma.

Horace is a drunk. The most cultured, opinionated, ornery, bellicose, and anachronistic drunk one might ever be disinclined to meet. The reader likewise succumbs to such astronomical force with the ambivalent love-hate feelings shared and endured by every incidental character in the book. The saving grace? From the very inception of its gloriously slapstick, eye-popping introductory scene, The Dining Car promises and delivers nothing less than a Falstaffian feast of fun.

Do not, however, be misled by such a fun-filled promise. There are moments of genuine pathos embedded in Eric Peterson’s roller-coaster book, The Dining Car. Such an unredeemable character as Horace is duly bound to come with some satisfying surprises. And though this most definitely remains a character-driven book, dominated by a truly unforgettable “character-at-large,” prepare also to be pleasantly surprised by the masterful prose offered up here by the author, whose pacing, descriptions, dialogue and plotting are seamlessly and effortlessly impeccable, allowing one to fully concentrate his attention upon the fine, if most eccentric, gourmet dining experience of a lifetime.

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