“The Dining Car” by Eric Peterson

Pub. Date:  Nov. 1, 2016

Publisher:  The Independent Book  Publisher Associationthe dining car

The narrator of this novel is a once-famous college football star whose career ended after an accident.  Once he recovers, he is employed as a bartender on an elaborate, old-fashioned railroad dining car owned by a rich, alcoholic, eccentric man.  This character is modeled after legendary Lucius Morris Beebe (1902-1966).  Beebe, as our protagonist, was an American author, gourmand, railroad historian, syndicated columnist and a notorious socialite.  Reading about the absurdity of this sort of insanely rich life through the eyes of a regular Joe, our football player, will give the reader many a chuckle.

The book is called “The Dining Car” because our gourmand, the protagonist, refuses to ride on an airplane.  He writes that airports treat people like cattle, touching them in ways that one should be able to sue over. (I laughed many times over his opinionated statements he makes in his column).   So instead he buys an old Pullman railroad car and travels solely on his vintage private luxury dining car, which is straight out of the 1930s.  He has his own personal top-tier chef and his own bartender who is always decked out in a white jacket.  Both are at his beck and call twenty-four hours a day.  Our quirky gourmand always starts his day with some kind of decadent breakfast that would clog anyone’s arteries. Of course, breakfast is served with a Bloody Mary.  The food and alcohol continues until the end of the day, when he finally drops off in a stupor.  He surrounds himself with the rich and famous who are beyond wealthy, as well as beyond obnoxious.   We really should dislike them.  Yet the writer somehow makes them into endearing characters to chuckle over.  We also should dislike the protagonist because he is such a self-absorbed narcissist.  But despite all his flaws, the reader will come to love him because his wit and charisma are as big as his appetites.

The farcical situations he accidentally finds himself in are so ridiculous one cannot help but laugh out loud with him rather than at him.   When meeting his 11-year old niece for the first time, his magazine’s Board suggests he give her a teddy bear.  They do not suggest this because it will be a kind gesture, but because it will be a good photo-op.  First, they buy a talking Smokey the Bear doll by mistake.  Then they try to feminize the bear with a hat and dress.  When he hands the bear over to the child (of course, he is as drunk as a skunk), the hat is no longer on the bear’s head.  Then the bear’s voice mechanism jams and he begins laughing uncontrollably.   So what observers witness is a man laughing at Smokey in a dress.  This is how he inadvertently manages to get himself in trouble with the LGBT community who think he is poking fun at transgender people.   The scene reads like an updated “I Love Lucy” episode where everything goes wrong and is misinterpreted creating simply silly slapstick humor.

I could have happily read about the fictional Beebe’s overindulgent lifestyle and his hilarious antics throughout the whole book.  But the author adds romance, chef spying, a sister in politics, murder, and an orphaned niece into the plot.  The niece is written as if she is 6-years old instead of 11-years old.  Her character felt rushed in as a means to influence the bartender’s fate.  I did not feel a connection to her at all.  Nor did I care if the football player falls in love with his co-worker or a celebrity chef.    By adding in these other characters, I felt that the author is trying to write a bestselling book, not realizing that he already has one.  For me, these characters with their subplots felt like filler.  One sees the author putting his plot-driven fingerprints all over a delightful, character-driven novel.   Nevertheless, I recommend that you treat yourself to a delicious book with course after course of scrumptious meals served with signature cocktails that will leave you hungry for more travels on “The Dining Car.”

Find all my reviews at https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/4793025-martie-nees-record?shelf=read