Family history is always fertile ground for a writer, whether it’s used to inspire fiction or just capture the facts for posterity. Next O&W Train From Tennessee does a little of both, with mixed results.
Author JR Holbrook’s book is a compendium of ideas, some fact, others rendered into fiction, that often seem unrelated. He speculates about life for his ancestors, one of whom was killed in the Civil War. He also entertains thoughts about a family member’s coin collection, the novels of Zane Grey, and historical events outside the family story. As a result, the story has no narrative through-line and reads more like a list of recollections than a story that coheres.
The writing here is simple, and Holbrook doesn’t invest a lot into imagining what life was like for his ancestors. For example, he envisions this snippet of dialogue at one point: “’We need to load these logs into our wagon so that we can get them to where they need to be before too long,’ said the people who worked in the logging industry.” A passage about Zane Grey is less than illuminating, as it includes the publication date and page count of one of his novels, and notes that over the course of 70 novels, “on some things like detail he is good. But some of the words and expressions that he used make the story harder to read.”
In sum, the writing here falls short, but the book includes a generous collection of family photos, filling up half the pages, that tell their own story. While Next O&W Train From Tennessee has little to offer general interest readers, the author’s family will appreciate the photos and view the book as a treasured keepsake.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.