Author: Jeff Andrews
Publisher: Eiger Press
It takes only a few pages of The Gandy Dancer to be captivated by the skillful storytelling of Jeff Andrews who intelligently knits together two separate stories and comes up with quite a curve ball of an ending. The novel is not so easily categorized, while it contains elements of a thriller, it is also a story touching on love, racism, interracial relationships, and self-discovery, where characters are forced to deal with complex situations through a variety of mazes which ultimately intertwine.
Bouncing back and forth from the present to 1936, Andrews focuses on several characters, Mitch Corsini, a newspaper journalist for the Richmond News, Rebecca Marshall, a student nurse, and two African-Americans George Henry McConnell and his brother Willie, who were employed as “gandy dancers” in Clifton Forge, Virginia back in the 1930’s. The “gandy dancers” were involved in the back-breaking trade of laying and maintaining railroad tracks before the work was done by machines.
The opening chapters of the saga describe the hardships George and Willie endured at the hands of their white tyrannical boss. As for Mitch, we learn that he was recently divorced and is now facing a paternity suit instituted by someone he claims he never met. His black co-worker Ann, whom he is not sure he slept with during a state of inebriation, has agreed to find an attorney for him who will try and get him out of his mess. And if that is not enough, his ex-wife Sandra informs him that their daughter Erica has gone missing somewhere in the hills near Clifton Forge.
Shifting to 1936, Andrews introduces us to Rebecca who learns that her father, who was a train engineer, was involved in an accident and it was only due to the quick thinking and initial care of George that his life was spared. Against the advice of her friends, Rebecca is very determined to thank George for his bravery notwithstanding that he is black and lives in a section of Clifton Forge that white people refrain from frequenting.
A good part of the novel is taken up with Mitch’s search for his daughter in the hills surrounding Clifton Forge and Andrews keeps us entertained with his readable style and distinctive characters who are constantly on the move. He also mixes in considerable suspense with occupying the minds of his readers in questioning what the connection is between the people and events that transpired in 1936 with the present day in Clifton Forge.
To his great credit, Andrews effectively captures the ugliness and harsh reality of racism as well as the complexities of race relationships while at the same time scraping away many of the myths and fears between whites and blacks. It is a work of an author worthy of serious attention whose writing is readily understood as he skillfully laces past and present events into a compelling yarn that successfully uses distinctive voices.
According to Andrews bio, he grew up in the small town of Moorestown, New Jersey, a stone’s throw from Philadelphia and a short drive to the Jersey shore. He is a graduate of Baldwin-Wallace College and later earned a masters degree from George Washington University. Jeff served twenty years in the U.S. Marine Corps, including tours in Vietnam and service with the Multinational Peacekeeping Force in Beirut, Lebanon. Jeff is the author of The Freedom Star and his short stories have appeared in Combat Magazine, The Goblin Reader, The Binnacle, and Whistling Shade.
Follow Here To Read Norm’s Interview With Jeff Andrews