Kirkus Reviews QR Code
THE RAIL by Howard Owen

THE RAIL

By Howard Owen

Pub Date: April 1st, 2001
ISBN: 1-57962-043-4
Publisher: Permanent Press

A sixth from Richmond, Virginia, newspaper editor Owen (Harry and Ruth, 2000, etc.) offers more of his scrambled-family specialties. This time, a baseball Hall-of-Famer on a long downward slide tries for a turnaround after his release from prison by reconnecting with his half-sister and his son.

Neil Beauchamp was a longtime line-drive hitter with a sweet swing known as “The Virginia Rail,” but he’s a long way from his glory days when his estranged son David picks him up at a Virginia prison gate after his two-year stint for running over a cop while drunk. He’s worn and withdrawn, but determined to make the best of a chance given him by Blanchard Penn, the half-sister he might have known better had he not been kicked out of the stuffy, gentrified Penn family at age three when his lowborn mother walked out on his father. Now she’s told him that half of the Penn manor—an ancient English original hauled in by a pretentious ancestor—is his, and David is taking him there. David is a respected reporter on the Washington beat who’s just been downsized, and Blanchard is a fading beauty with a glass of bourbon always in hand and more than a few bats in the belfry, so Neil isn’t in the most robustly supportive of company. But as days pass (David’s stay having been prolonged by car trouble), father and son find ways to connect and overcome the years of neglect that went with The Rail being a hot-shot ballplayer. The details of Neil’s youth, career, divorce and drunken aftermath emerge, helping to explain his present world-weariness, but ultimately it’s the secret past he and Blanchard have shared that gives David greatest cause for worry—rightfully so, as it turns out.

Artfully muddled dynamics and good baseball scenes, but all that’s interesting about The Rail is in his past: he’s subdued in the story’s present to the point of being a nonentity.