Eric Peterson's The Dining Car
On everypage, the romance of rails is written into The Dining Car by Eric Peterson. Who wouldn’t want to live in a private railcar fitted up with bedrooms, an observing balcony and a kitchen for gourmet meals and hitched to Amtrack to travel across the country?
I have to admit after reading The Dining Car, I actually looked up renting a private rail car and travelling across the country like this! While beyond my budget, the idea is enticing!
Even if hiring my own railcar isn't possible, the love of trains is in my blood now. I have that in common with Eric’s eccentric main character. Horace Button is a likeable, talented and wealthy food and wine writer. At the same time, he is a self-centered gourmet alcoholic who lives in his rail car with his own chef and bartender.
The author learned about trains first hand. “I worked for Amtrak one summer when I was in college at UC San Diego, and then I went back to the railroad for a short stint after I graduated from Stanford. I was a ticket clerk and baggage man. I rotated between three stations (San Diego, Del Mar, and Oceanside, filling in where needed.”
The fine dining standards in The Dining Car also comes from Eric’s experiences. He was a partner in an upscale restaurant for several years. “I wore a suit and tie every night … The restaurant was very upscale -- think a Fleming's or Morton's steakhouse: white tablecloths; glittering bar; grand piano playing in the dining room; extremely professional, well-trained staff; the best of everything (and prices to match!)…My ‘Horace’ tirades about the decline of dining standards are tongue-in-cheek, but my time in the restaurant business left me somewhat a food snob.” Eric is very lucky. His wife Teresa is a gourmet cook. She helped create the menus in The Dining Car and shared her own Caesar Salad with us.
The absorbing story is in two parts. The first revolves around the bartender Jack and his romances, including with Horace's Chef Wanda. The second part is introduced after 180 pages. With no spoilers, Horace’s niece Jane becomes the focus in often hilarious and at the same time poignant scenes.
Eric’s fictional characters are bombarded with disruptive events. “I use emotional baggage as a literary device to give my characters story arcs that I hope my readers will find sympathetic, entertaining, and satisfying in the end.” His most cutting remarks are saved for corrupt and hypocritical politicians on both sides of the isle, who frequent the pages.
In an unusual technique, Eric listens to his dialogue out loud, using a screenwriting software app that lets him assign different voices to each character. And it works!
I loved reading this book, with its unusual plot, memorable and unconventional characters and a satisfying ending in which the main characters find they are stronger than they imagined. There's not only fine dining in The Dining Car--there's a lof of fine writing!
A big thank you to Teresa Peterson for sharing her signature Horace Button's Proper Caesar Salad.