(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

STATIONS is an eccentric little book—a fictionalized family story created simply to give flesh to the artist/author’s art work. Flanagan’s paintings depict the twilight years of America’s once- omnipresent (and omnipotent) railroad lines. They are exquisitely rendered in photograph-like detail. This is Flanagan’s first book—a project he was encouraged to produce by mentor Jacqueline Onassis. Unfortunately, the end result seems contrived, and it is difficult to conjure up much sympathetic interest for the fictionalized characters involved. The book makes a pleasant afternoon’s read, however, and is well worth viewing for the art work alone.

Flanagan’s story line is spare. Lucius Caton, the narrator, informs the reader that he has been sent by his artistic and reclusive sister, Anna, in search of an old album of lost photographs. The photos, taken years earlier by his railroad-buff cousin, Russ McKay, had captured nostalgic images of the dying railroad lines that once wound through Virginia’s scenic Shehnandoah Valley. Russ, Anna’s lover, had been killed in a freak railroad accident and the album lost in the years that passed. As Lucius tells of his search for the book, he also share observations about the seemingly dysfunctional Caton family itself.

The art in STATIONS is stunning; the text interesting at times. The paintings, however, speak far more eloquently. They capture in detail the historical beauty of America’s lost railroads, and can be easily appreciated apart from the contrived tale in which they appear.