In Kamrud’s debut novel, a Montana railroad foreman’s alcoholism threatens to destroy his job, his marriage and perhaps even his life.Third-generation railroader Steven Lange is fighting the bottle, an ongoing problem that doesn’t help his already strained relationship with wife Jackie. One morning, an avalanche occurs while he’s at work, and it’s Steven’s job to make sure a red flag warning is in place to signal danger to an approaching Amtrak train. A truck was knocked close to the tracks in the landslide, so it’s critical the Amtrak engineer sees the warning flag and stops in time to avoid the danger. The flag Steven swears he secured earlier is missing, the Amtrak train slams into the truck, and a derailment occurs. No lives are lost, but Steven is suspended during the subsequent investigation, which finds that while he wasn’t legally drunk, he did have alcohol in his system from a bender the night before. Jackie’s had enough of Steven’s irresponsible behavior, so she and their daughters head to a friend’s cabin in the woods, leaving Steven to nurse his wounds and another six-pack. Kamrud convincingly portrays the inner demons that drive Steven to drink as well as the frustrations that lead Jackie to leave him. When Jackie and the girls arrive at the cabin, Kamrud stirs the senses by sharing the scents (“fresh pine feathered her nose”) and sounds (“meadowlarks harmonizing near the water’s edge”). While the well-paced narrative has a pleasant voice, the book suffers greatly from poor editing—“her mother had giving up on life,” it’s for its, past for passed, etc.—that detracts from an otherwise enjoyable tale. Overall, though, Montana-native Kamrud creates a colorful sense of place that will have some readers longing to head westward.
Despite the errors, a pleasing debut.