I have done my share of book blasting in the past, and if ever there was a book worthy of a big blast, Orphan Train is it. Clearly, Christina Baker Kline knows my list of novel no's and applied them all just to annoy me. First, there is the contrived framework. Molly, a young woman, tossed from foster home to foster home, finds herself doing community service hours by helping an elderly woman clean her attic. Together they open boxes and the story of Vivian's orphan train experience emerges. A straight forward telling of Vivian's story might have been more effective, especially since the juvie girl is painfully underdeveloped and the parallels between her life and Vivine's come off trite and contrived.
Several underdeveloped characters wander through the novel, adding to the overall weakness of presentation resulting in logic gaps. Then there's the portaging metaphor, and that old "it's the journey, not the destination" message.
Despite all that, along with flaws piled upon flaws, I must say that I liked the book. It has stuck with me. Vivian's resilience - probably more stubborn than resisilant - makes this 90-ish storyteller a powerful protagonist. Success stories like hers were likely few; her success, no matter what the circumstance, is due to who she is and the choices she makes no matter how hard.
I learned so much from this book which is something I never expected. Anchoring the simple story is the solid foundation of time in history I knew little about, a time filled with suspicion, poverty, class division, and social systems that failed due to blind eyes.
I thought a lot about why we keep what we do and how a life with less could bring greater clarity. I thought about how importatant it is to know we can rely on the kindness of strangers, and how important it is to be that stranger whenever possible. I wondered how many people I know are or have been broken and have chosen to stay strong and not prop themselves up on the crutch of disaster. Lots to think about.
Final thought? Simple book. Huge impact.
...now word for the events of the past week...just sad.
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