Last Train to Babylon by Charlee Fam ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: October 28, 2014
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Target audience: Adult
Keywords: Long Island, old friendships, death, grief, painful memories
Format read: Paperback provided by author/publisher. (Thanks!)
Summary: When Aubrey hears of her ex-best friend’s suicide, she’s not sure if she will make an appearance at the funeral. But she goes home to Long Island anyway, bumping into people right and left that knew Rachel when they were younger and all the memories (the good and bad) and the secrets come flooding back. Is it the right time to share her past with others?
Ever since I went away to college, a part of me dreads going back to the town where I want to school. No one looks forward to awkward encounters with ex-classmates. It’s understandable that we’ve changed and aren’t all best friends anymore (if we ever were) and I have a strong feeling part of my aversion to this (especially as a holiday weekend draws so near) is that I don’t want to be reminded of the bad, the sad or the heartbreaking moments associated with high school.
I could relate to Aubrey, out of college and living in NYC as an online journalist, when it came to the familiar feel of the Long Island Railroad and encountering all the familiar about being home, especially for the funeral of her ex-best friend, Rachel, who has committed suicide. They had a rocky friendship but no one, not even her mom or high school boyfriend, knew the depths of their complicated connection. While Rachel was the ultimate mean girl armed with a ton of confidence in front of her peers, Aubrey knew the girl who felt a disconnect from her family, constantly wanted to be reassured of their best friendship, yet at the same time, constantly put herself first.
Told in chapters that alternate between present day and earlier memories of their friendship, Aubrey is forced to remember the reasons why she loved Rachel, and hated her at the same time especially as the rest of the town seems to put her on a pedestal. (Seriously, they were throwing an after-party for the funeral with favors.) It’s tough because Aubrey is never open with her feelings; she pushes away her overbearing mom, she makes fun of her brother’s new girlfriend, and she avoids her ex and current boyfriend as much as possible. Instead, she drinks, she wanders, and retreats even further into her memories.
It’s difficult to talk about this book because I don’t want to give anything away. Fam has concocted a story that alternated between predictable and not. I was surprised by some reveals but others felt a bit too perfect, placed in the prose to move it along. What I do find impressive is all the inner-dialogue from Aubrey once she makes certain discoveries; she has a lot to weed through and so many of her doubts have been perpetuated by society and the media and for that, I believe Last Train to Babylon would be a great book club read. There’s certainly a ton to discuss. I would have preferred a bit more development in Part 2 of the book, though, including more conversations between Aubrey and her mom, and even her and her current boyfriend. A later scene with the ex-boyfriend didn’t hit the emotional mark I wanted it to, either.
Despite my qualms, believe me when I say Last Train to Babylon was an addicting read that I stayed up super late to finish. I had to know how it all would end, and as a debut, it’s great to have Charlee Fam on my radar.