Monday, November 3, 2014

Review: Last Train to Babylon by Charlee Fam

As my own children grow ever closer to young adulthood and to striking out on their own, I worry more and more about the world and them making their way in it. The choices they make will change them. Those choices can harm them or help them; either way they will certainly be life altering. As they move out into the world, their friendships, once so solid seeming, may change or fade or end and they may one day have to face the betrayal of a friend. It is a hard lesson and one so many of us have had to learn. Books like Charlee Fam's debut novel, Last Train to Babylon, don't help to assuage my fears for my kids. In fact, it even reinforces some of them, but it is so realistic and true as a possibility for today's twentysomethings that it cannot be dismissed.

The prologue opens with Aubrey Glass waking up in a hospital bed. She doesn't quite remember how she ended up there but it is clear that something deep and unhappy haunts her since there is a psychologist at her side asking her questions. And from this, the rest of the novel takes off. Moving backwards in time to before the hospital bed, Aubrey is surprised to hear from her mother that her former best friend, Rachel, has committed suicide. In fact, it is Aubrey who has five years worth of suicide notes in case she chooses to end it all. (She also has break-up notes to leave for the boyfriend with whom she lives if it comes to that rather than suicide.) She is angry that everyone wants her to grieve over someone who hurt her as badly as Rachel once did, not that she allows the reader to know what happened between them, at least not to start. As she works through her own internal rants about Rachel, she paints a picture of an unequal and unrewarding friendship. Rachel sounds awful but Aubrey doesn't sound any better. And she has no intention of going home to the funeral and the after party being organized in Rachel's memory. But she does go home where she is faced with the memories of everything that was right and then went so very wrong.

The novel moves back and forth from the past to the present as Aubrey works through her feelings both about what happened years ago to irreparably break their friendship then and how she feels now knowing that Rachel is gone. Aubrey tells the story herself, allowing her to give an incomplete accounting, continue to hide just what Rachel did to her, and to avoid the elephant in the room of the trauma that drives her whole existence now. She's a cold character, afraid of feeling emotion, who drinks to forget, to mute life, to self-medicate. She has fooled herself into thinking that she is over what happened but by never addressing it, she has allowed it to close her off to life, enjoyment, and connection. Aubrey is clearly damaged and cannot start to heal until she addresses the pain and truth of her past. She is not particularly likable and she portrays Rachel as a controlling, toxic, mean girl, queen bee too; even so Aubrey's lashing out at those who want to change Rachel's character after death is violent and self-destructive. The tone of the book is edgy, angry, and dark. Despite the bleakness of the story, especially once Aubrey allows herself to admit what happened to her, it still contains the seed of the importance of forgiveness and acceptance. Your choices can lead you into nightmares but holding onto them, internalizing them, and forever shouldering the blame robs you of the chance for future happiness. In capturing the voices of the Millennial Generation so clearly, Fam has written a hard nosed novel about truth, victimhood, and the end of friendship, one that is hard to read, with characters it is hard to like, but that still compels the reader to keep turning pages.

For more information about Charlee Fam and the book, take a look at her web page, follow her on Twitter, or take a look at the book's page on GoodReads. Follow the rest of the blog tour or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of the book for review.

1 comment:

  1. Stories about damaged people struggling through life always touch me deeply. I'm glad to see you can recommend this book even though you didn't like the characters.

    Thanks for being a part of the tour!


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