What holds these portraits together as a “novel” is Ruggles’ own history, insofar as the chapters are organized according to the chronological development of a bildungsroman; so, for instance, the reader first meets Aunt Mabel, whose name is the title of the first chapter, because she was important--and had a lesson to impart--in little Danny Ruggles’ boyhood. Ruggles, however, is a minor character throughout, even though this is ostensibly--since he is the narrator--primarily his story. Indeed, he is merely a foil, sometimes a foot-dragging go-between but more often merely a lens through which Auchincloss is able to lay bare, with a minimum of detail but a great deal of subtle insight, the upper-crust society that produced Ruggles and his ilk.
Had Sherwood Anderson been a native of New York, had he attended Yale and the University of Virginia Law School (which Auchincloss--and Ruggles--did), and had he been ensconced in the East Coast’s “old money” crowd, he might have written stories like these. FELLOW PASSENGERS echoes Anderson at his best, and Auchincloss’ characters are, beneath their money and their mannered facades, Andersonian “grotesques,” New York kin to the tormented folks in Winesburg, Ohio. Dan Ruggles himself, sans his fancy garb and gab, is a not-so-distant cousin of George Willard. Unlike Anderson, however, Auchincloss is a master craftsman who leaves none of his prose unpolished. His is always a great pleasure to read.