Book Review: The Train Derails in Boston by Jessica McHugh

“Will leave you turned on, confused, pissed off, nauseated, frightened of the dark, frightened of those you care about most, frightened of yourself, and ultimately asking the question—what the hell just happened?”

In the Indie speculative fiction world, you can’t go long without seeing or hearing the name Jessica McHugh. Having published over sixteen books in the past six years along with multiple anthology contributions, quality words seem to just spew from her prolific brain like a hyper-functioning machine that is on the verge of combustion but somehow continues on, relentlessly, while everything around it burns in a blaze of glory.

The Train Derails in Boston is her newest novel and follows that same destructive path. It’s a story of sex, violence, addiction, sacrifice, sex, and more sex. The main protagonist is Rebecca Malone—a nymphomaniac drunk whose calling is to destroy anything and everything she could possibly ever care about, bouncing from one sexual escapade to the next, swallowing regret after regret chased by the exhilarating burn of hard liquor. Her husband isn’t much better—a failed writer searching for his one great idea with nothing left to lose, only blank pages of emptiness, trying to find inspiration through all the numbing madness—nor her promiscuous daughter, nor her psychotic mother, nor anyone else written into the page, as this is about the biggest lot of unlikable characters you’ll come across. You’re left wondering who to route for and who to hate and by the time it’s all said and done, you’re left second-guessing those choices. The setting is a famous mansion that appears to be haunted, but the characters are so unreliable. The lines between ghosts, demons, and hallucinations are blurred, which allows for the twists and turns the ending resolve delivers. The story bounces back and forth over many decades and covers several story-lines from multiple characters—the three primary being Rebecca, her mentally unstable mother, and her troubled teenage daughter. The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree. McHugh pulls this off well as each time and setting is easily differentiated. Without spoiling, within the pages is another story of a man fighting with everything he has to get a lost loved one back, stopping at nothing, committing acts far beyond what he thought possible.

The book slams you in the groin within a matter of minutes with gratuitous sex. As the book goes on, the sexual heat doesn’t let up as the encounters become more and more brutally deviant. There were parts that, although bluntly descriptive, came off as overly romanticized—the usage of many terms you’d read in 50 Shade-esque erotica for lonely women. “There are only so many ways to poetically say cunt or describe bodily fluids.” McHugh’s dialogue between characters was masterfully crisp and realistic throughout, minimizing the use of sight words like “said” or “replied.” She has a knack for writing candid, believable conversations. Masked underneath the abundance of pornographic sex, the actual story didn’t really begin to take off until the midway point. That’s when the plot seemed to surface from all the moaning and licking and grunting, and the horror exposed its gruesome and terrifying self. Having mixed feelings of the first half of the book, despite the hot tingling in our loins deliberately delivered by wild sexcapades on every other page, the second half brings about redemption. You begin to relate to the characters despite their actions becoming more shocking and appalling, rendered helpless by temptation as wicked as Lucifer himself, and covered in crimson blood and gore. The ending brings our troubled characters and conflict—a flaming high-speed locomotive—to an exciting yet stressful head of death and fire and destruction. McHugh did a great job of layering characters and story-lines within story-lines, providing a depth that flies out at you in fiery embers as she brings them all to a close.

The Train Derails in Boston is not for everyone, but really, show us a book that is. If you’re into darker works led by flawed characters acting out on their transgressions, and you don’t mind a little explicit PDA or gore, this book may serve you well. Love it or hate it, this book will make you feel something. It will leave you turned on, confused, pissed off, nauseated, frightened of the dark, frightened of those you care about most, frightened of yourself, and ultimately asking the question—what the hell just happened?—as you look out the window of a blazing train careening off the tracks, collapsing around you, heading into the fiery destruction below.



Publisher: Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing
Paperback Edition (350pp)
Release Date: 9 June 2016

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