Last Train to Babylon
Charlee Fam
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Buy *Last Train to Babylon* by Charlee Fam online

Last Train to Babylon
Charlee Fam
William Morrow
352 pages
October 2014
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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Fam has crafted a sensitive, provocative novel that rings true from the first page, as twenty-something Aubrey Glass awakens in a hospital with few memories of the night before. Reluctantly returning home from NYC to Long Island for the funeral of childhood ex-friend, Rachel Burns, Aubrey is profoundly ambivalent. Her recollections of that long and torturous friendship are tainted by moments of shocking betrayal, birthing a revulsion that makes it all but impossible to think of attending Rachel’s funeral after her suicide. It’s an ironic touch for Aubrey, who has a stack of her own carefully worded suicide notes hidden in a drawer for future use; strange that it should be the attention-seeking Rachel who is garnering former classmates to mourn her life. Even more bizarre is the after-party planned for the night of the funeral, a celebration to be held at the local bar where one night changes everything in Aubrey’s life.

Whatever Aubrey’s long-buried secrets, there are no easy answers in this painful tale. The revelations are staggered over the years, from the present to 1997 or 2005, a stream of events relived. These events pepper her formative years, from the forced friendship with Rachel (and her own inability to say no) to a first romance with Adam, the brother of a boy who committed suicide in his teens; from a difficult relationship with Aubrey’s guidance counselor mother, Karen, to Danny, the boyfriend left behind in New York, who has never really been told the truth about Aubrey’s past. Even small missteps become ammunition in Rachel’s siege against Aubrey’s instinctive resistance.

Now the many incidents of giving in have translated into an inner dialog that drives Aubrey’s actions, most appearing hostile and unforgiving. She has fashioned herself into a hard-shelled woman who doesn’t care what others think. Burying the pains of the past, Aubrey has moved on but found herself a prisoner of the secret buried deeply in her psyche. She will do anything to avoid that pain, panic attacks assuaged only by excessive drinking or rage, anything to move forward and away from the pain. Now she is back at the place where everything significant in her young life happened, unwilling to attend the funeral of the girl who claimed her as best friend yet surrounded by familiar faces and the memories of losses too great to bear.

Fam transfixes her audience with a potent protagonist, the validity of the emotions that claim Aubrey, and her inability to find a way to purge herself of conflicts that has taken up residence in her heart and tainted her relationships with others. The stunted conversations between Aubrey and her mother are painful to experience, the well-meaning prodding of a woman who held Rachel as the perfect friend and her own daughter as the rebel. The wall between mother and daughter is so powerfully constructed that, even when she wants to, Aubrey cannot find the right words to bridge the chasm between them.

For all her torment and the way Aubrey turns her visit into a bloody battle against the shallow facades of those who have stayed behind (and their hypocritical paean to Rachel), there is toughness to this protagonist, the soul of a survivor who has gotten sidetracked from the path she was meant to take. The journey, however, is long and agonizing. Aubrey is forced to open old wounds in order to heal, to examine choices and actions, and finally, to forgive. Like a fine conductor, Fam manages this intricate dance with compassion, insight and grace, a storyteller who speaks from the heart, drawing out the essence of that struggle, the yawning place between childhood and maturity and the freedom wrought of truth.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Luan Gaines, 2014

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