THE SNOW TRAIN by Joseph Cummins


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First-novelist Cummins audaciously enters the mind of a very young boy afflicted by tragedy and chronic disease, attempting to give meaning to the mélange of real and imagined impressions he finds there.

Aside from his green-eyed mama, who writes poetry when she’s not spreading the cream that cools his burning rash, baby Robbie's first crib-centric observations in the 1950s have to do with his older sister Rosemary, whose black eyes and pigtails are practically all he needs to see and whose imagination is more than enough for both of them. Later, his world expands to include the windows and lawn of his suburban Detroit home, changing seasons, and other children, but one hot day disaster strikes: Rosie is run over while racing to the Good Humor truck. A few years later, Robbie inhabits a quieter, but no less mysterious world. Although his rash has grown into a series of interlocking scabs that encase his body and bleed whenever he scratches them (which is often), he still leads the semblance of a normal life. He goes to parochial school along with much of the rest of the neighborhood, puzzles over his aunt's relationship with his dad's top car salesman, and imagines that Rosie's invisible friend Abdo is still in the house. (When a girl challenges his memory of Rosie, he hits her.) But Robbie's illness also puts him into the very different world of the city hospital children's ward for cases like his. There, he meets a speechless boy with boiled skin and a girl with a rainbow face. There, he awaits the transformation that will set him free. Remaining true to his protagonist’s perceptions, Cummins lets the story’s essential mysteries remain as impenetrable as they would for a child.

An intriguing worldview, meticulously assembled with an artist's inspired touch.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2001
ISBN: 1-888451-23-8
Page count: 285pp
Publisher: Akashic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2001