A New York office worker’s chance encounter with a mysterious woman on a train upends his life in this debut novel.
Gary Norton works for L&S Import Export Company in Manhattan and commutes home to Connecticut every day on the 5:01 p.m. train. His boring work routine and dull commute are enlivened slightly by an enigmatic woman he spies on the train. Trying to chat her up, he strikes out as she initially rebuffs him, but after several days of seeing her, they go out for drinks. It becomes clear to Gary that this woman, Julie, and her associate at a bar are mixed up in the drug trade. One evening, the police arrive at the train station and arrest her. Dismayed, Gary thinks instead of a co-worker, Susan, who has shown some interest in him. After a few dates, there seem to be some possibilities for the two romantically, but Gary encounters the police on the way home one day, and they arrest him. The police have video of him carrying Julie’s bag, and he is pressured into pleading guilty to drug possession. Freed, Gary loses his job and leaves town, heading south, seeking a new life. At a restaurant in North Carolina, he meets the owner, Sarah Dorsey, a matronly widow, whose down-home charm and kitchen-sink realism are magnetic enough to keep Gary in town. He begins cooking for the restaurant, torn between whether he is starting a new life in North Carolina or just spending time on his own before reuniting with Susan in Brooklyn. As people begin to get their hooks into Gary in the South, drama near and far threatens his plans to reshape his future. The novel has plenty of entertaining storytelling on display, and this tale of an unassuming man caught up in multiple extraordinary events is an engaging one. Depictions of supposedly coldhearted New York as opposed to the warmth of the South manifest themselves mainly in Sarah’s restaurant, the community’s heart and soul, and Kopet creates colorful characters who almost always have motives. The drug subplot keenly critiques America’s beastly criminal justice system. Gary’s struggles, both economic and romantic, are universal and fit well into the ever evolving storyline. The novel does have some excess bulk, however, and a leaner version could have offset some methodical writing toward the end.
While this book could be more concise, the protagonist’s story of rebuilding his life in the South remains appealing.