‘Train’ by Joy Williams

“Far away,” wrote railway enthusiast WG Sebald, “but from where?” And so it is with both trains and short stories. To be on a train is to be far from somewhere, a liminality that also lends itself to the story, whose ultimate concern is what takes place beyond its bounds, before it begins and after it ends.

Two ten-year-old girls, best friends, are travelling home to Florida after a summer in Maine. The journey takes place on an impossibly enchanting auto train, with bubble-topped observation cars, a car dedicated to board games, a bar-car in which parents can hasten the end of their marriage, and an all-violet interior, the girls’ favourite colour. Jane and Dan will likely not remain friends after the summer (and the story) ends. What will remain is Dan’s realisation that she is as good as alone in the world. Joy Williams’s stories portray life’s more desperate corners and I think the ones in her first collection, Taking Care, are among her best. 

Collected in Taking Care, Random House, 1982)

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