With this year's release of "The Railroad," Tony Holtzman offers a confident second installment in the Adirondack Trilogy.
Book two follows the Carter family, innkeeper William Corey, and their friends and neighbors in the central Adirondacks - slightly older versions of characters readers will recognize from "Axton Landing." Holtzman is more comfortable with the cast the second time around, and smoothly integrates his historic ideas with an imaginative narrative.
As an historical novel, "The Railroad" gives a human voice to textbook issues. Labor rights, women's suffrage, and environmental protection all personally and poignantly visit the Carter family. Holtzman tells a well-paced story that keeps the historical information where it belongs -- in the background.
What comes to the foreground is the brutality of frontier life in the Adirondacks. Debilitating sickness, injury, and accidental death are as commonplace as discrimination, flippant disregard for the environment, and the abuse of power. The Adirondacks would have been a tough place to live in 1870, and Holtzman doesn't let his readers forget it.
The novel's title industry, in the form of the Durant railroad, serves up most of the novel's heartache. Cigar-smoking rail barons are the demons of this novel, on whom we tangentially blame every injustice. Holtzman occasionally credits the railroad with creating jobs, but it's clear that there is safer and more ethical employment to be had. The novel's cover photo is telling -?a smoldering locomotive racing toward the camera, it's smoke half-obscuring a pile of cut timber.
Despite the unrelenting circumstances, "The Railroad" is a hopeful novel. The Adirondack wilderness offers redemption for faithless downstate lawmakers, healing for city doctors, and the occasional fated romance. In other words, it's a world composed of entirely normal events shown in forced perspective.
Holtzman's success with these characters bodes well for the final installment, which would do well to stick with some of the themes introduced in "The Railroad," like land use and tourism. In the final book we'll hope to see the Adirondacks designated "forever wild," the various offspring of this book's lovers grow to fraught adulthood, and a whole new collage of historical themes brought into focus.
This review reflects the individual view of the reviewer, not the views of the Adirondack Center for Writing or the Enterprise.