The Streamlined Locomotive
by Stephen Lloyd Auslender
Page Publishing

"All it took was a modicum of bullshit and bravado, and I had taken over the entire operation. I had uttered the correct keywords, I had appealed to the people’s patriotism and religion, and I took over."

It’s the early 1940s, and America is quietly preparing to enter World War II. Philandering layabout Theopolis P. Bezelbottom works as personal assistant to his uncle Aloysius, president of the Hawgwaller & Western Railroad Company. Aloysius, who dreams of transforming his flagging company and being elevated into the pantheon of railroad moguls, conceives the idea of building a streamlined locomotive with a matching passenger train. Theo’s attempt to secure the locomotive for his uncle leads him on a strange adventure involving blackmail, the FBI, various femme fatales, and an ambassador from an obscure European country known as Vulgaria.

Theo encounters a number of cranks and eccentrics, among them a man with a phony Irish brogue, a man who escapes from prison every year in the spring, and a bulky but voluptuous woman named Zelda who hoists him up and slings him over her shoulder “like a sack of flour.” Working under the assumption that people will do anything a man says if he commands them with enough confidence and bluster, Theo lands in one scrape after another, each more embarrassing than the last.

A pitch-perfect evocation of 1930s mystery-satire, Auslender’s book is a joy from start to finish. Readers familiar with the literature or film of that era may note how flawlessly the novel conjures the tone of ‘30s and ‘40s comedy with its absurd set pieces and rapid-fire, whimsical dialogue. Auslander’s ability to weave and develop a story is rare. His ability to draw humor from the quirks and foibles of the human condition is rarer still. At times the novel’s descriptions of Vulgaria evoke Kurt Vonnegut’s portrayal of the fictional island of San Lorenzo in Cat’s Cradle. Theo’s dilettantism and determination to avoid fighting in the war also recall Yossarian from Catch-22. This is a worthy companion to those classics.

RECOMMENDED by the US Review

Return to USR Home