Destiny on the Tracks by Drake Braxton is a Bittersweet Dreams title by Dreamspinner Press that offers a refreshing alternative to the traditional happy ending within romance. It is a multi-genre novella that incorporates time-travel, fantasy, romance, mystery and a period historical to provide for a well written and touching page-turning love story.
I HAVE written Destiny on the Tracks because I wanted to pay homage to time-travel greats Jack Finney, Richard Matheson, and even more recently Audrey Niffenegger and a Jude Deveraux novel I once read. The romantic side of me needed to be released. Sort of Somewhere in Time meets Water for Elephants and Brokeback Mountain, the book is loosely (very loosely) based on a factual train wreck that occurred near Chicago in 1918.”
Wheeler Reynolds is a New York City financial analyst that is on the fast track and doesn’t have time for relationships. While on business in a small town near Chicago, he learns of a tale about a traveling circus killed nearby in a horrific train wreck almost a century ago. Haunted by the story, Wheeler begins to hear his name whispered on the wind, a calliope music box, the whistle of a train, screeching brakes and the sounds of animals. Drawn to a glowing red light that he first sees through his bedroom window of the Bed & Breakfast in which he is staying, Wheeler follows it along the train tracks that have long since been abandoned. The light turns into an apparition of a dark and beautiful young man and just as Wheeler realises that it is not the wind but this young man that has been calling his name, he’s transported back in time.
Wheeler awakes still a guest in the same Bed & Breakfast but in the company of people that he does not recognise. Mrs. Prachett, the woman who owns the Bed & Breakfast, is no longer elderly but a young girl and it is the year 1918. Confused and trying to make sense of his new reality, Wheeler takes a walk to clear his head and finds himself along the tracks just as the McGowan & Flannigan’s circus train arrives in the small town for a performance stop. There he meets the Tenaglia brothers, aerialists for the circus, and when Nicola Tenaglia hands him a flyer and invites him to attend the performance, Wheeler recognises the apparition of the beautiful young man is Nicola.
Immediately drawn to one another, Wheeler signs up as a roustabout for a dollar a day to help set up the circus tents in the hopes of getting to know Nicola. They quickly fall into a whirlwind affair and Wheeler comes to believe that it’s his mission to stop the train accident from occurring. When they are discovered, events spin out of Wheeler’s control, and he and Nicola are separated. Time becomes the enemy as the train begins to pull away and Nicola’s time is running out.
I easily fell into this lovely story and was quickly swept up in the time-travel fantasy, the mystery behind the train wreck and the love story between Wheeler and Nicola and read this tale in one sitting.
There are several elements of this story that stand out. First, the fluidity of the prose and the rich descriptions set an excellent overall mood of mystery, suspense and a sense of foreboding surrounding the train wreck from the very beginning. The author sustains this mood through short chapters, at first alternating third person perspectives between Wheeler in the present and Nicola in the past until Wheeler travels back to 1918. At the same time, there is also an ethereal and dream-like quality to the story that captures Wheeler’s time travel experience and new reality. The reader is transported back in time along with Wheeler, and the author effortlessly captures the feel of an early 20th century American mid-western small town and the sights and sounds of the circus. I could almost hear the calliope music box playing, the train whistle and the sound of the rain falling while reading this story.
Characterisation is another strength of this novella, and both primary and secondary characters are well developed for a story of this length and intricacy. What stands out most, is Wheeler’s transformation and sense of purpose to protect Nicola by stopping the train wreck. The author also well captures Nicola’s need to break out of his sheltered life in the circus and experience the world, while at the same time not losing that fundamental essence of this character, his innocence and kindness.
There is a sweetness and distinct old world romantic charm to their love story that lends itself well to the time and place of this tale. Wheeler quickly abandons his penchant for one-night stands and anonymous sex to devote himself to Nicola and to helping him accept his homosexuality. While Wheeler is patient with Nicola and their love scenes tender, there is also a sense of urgency surrounding their relationship and their need to escape back to New York City where they can be together because of the impending tragedy of the train wreck. My only misgiving about the romance lies with the inherent limitations of the novella length of the story. While Destiny on the Tracks is tightly written for a tale of some eighty pages, I would have welcomed a slightly lengthier exploration of the development of Wheeler and Nicola’s relationship, in particular in consideration of Nicola’s inexperience and realisation of his sexual orientation, and Wheeler’s adjustment to finding himself in 1918.
Mr. Braxton’s talent for writing a winding plot is more than evident in his debut novel, Missing. In Destiny on the Tracks the author once again provides for an unexpected plot twist that only heightens the bittersweet ending of this story, and yet, at the same time Mr. Braxton is able to ensure a fated happily-ever-after for Wheeler and Nicola. Even though this novella is Mr. Braxton second published work and a departure from Missing, the common thread of this author’s writing is clear – he is not afraid to take chances. I consider this an altogether good thing.
Destiny on the Tracks is a story that lingers. It is at once a poignant, haunting and lovely tale. I recommend this story without hesitation, in particular for those romantics who believe that love can not only reach back in time but can also transcend the hereafter.