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July 17, 2010

Book Review: Westchester Station by Patrick Welch (2002)

by David Hayes

Patrick Welch's Westchester Station is a kaleidoscope of interesting characters, some familiar throughout history and literature, and others based completely on the inventiveness of their author. Robert Winstead, Winchester Station's protagonist, is predestined, during a Chicago blizzard, to try and find his way to Schenectady, NY by the only means possible, the enigmatic train depot called Westchester Station. In a series of events not quite controlled by him, Winstead is taken to the train station and told by the stationmaster that Winstead is there for a reason. This reason is the root of Winstead's trip through the magical depot and the reinvigoration of his entire being. Winstead, a marketing account executive, is dissatisfied with his current position, status and general life plan. By meeting and interacting with (both causing and solving problems) the denizens of the depot, Winstead learns his reason for coming to Westchester station, which is his reason for, well, being.

Welch has mixed a great tapestry of characters together to propel his character to the desired destination. Winstead meets Jack the Ripper, the Minotaur of Greek mythology's brother, residents of Atlantis City, an actual werewolf and even Lucifer. And while at the station, Winstead manages to thwart an alien invasion, a few graffiti-inspired major disasters and a serial killer's reign of terror. There is no rhyme or reason why these people, along with Winstead, have found themselves at Westchester Station. The stationmaster, though, lets them know that, like Winstead, everyone has a reason for being there.

Although Winstead's story is intriguing and his character development is superb, the novelette has a few minor drawbacks. First and foremost, Welch's dialogue comes across as stilted. When writing for a classical character, like the Minotaur or Lucifer, Welch's melodic prose is suited and appropriate. When that same dialogue is coming from a professional gambler or shapechanging prostitute it sounds misplaced.

Secondly, the story itself is vague. Granted, Winstead's travels through the station are interesting and the reader genuinely cannot wait to find out who our hero will meet next, but the story doesn't unravel. We know that Winstead is there for a reason, and that reason becomes apparent during the dénouement of the final pages but it is not a resolution. Winstead seems to be on a continual journey that doesn't provide the reader with any closure.

Finally, the work is far too short. Winstead's travels in the mystical train station do not stretch as extensively as they could. In a seemingly endless realm of possibilities, where time has no real meaning and square-footage is of no concern, there is a wide range of adventures that Winstead could have had. Winstead's altercations and interactions with the station's staff, and patrons, pale in comparison with what is just around the next corner, and the next. Robert Winstead, via Patrick Welch, only scratched the surface of the strange world of Westchester Station.

These three minor points aside, Westchester Station is a rarity in the (loosely-termed) fantasy genre. With the current glut of speculative fiction in the marketplace, Welch's novelette is a true page-turner. He has created a world of infinite possibilities that is perfectly acceptable. A set of physical laws must be inherent in the creation of a fantasy world, and the population of that fantasy world must abide by these laws in order for the world to be believable. Welch has done an admirable job (not as extensive, but along the same lines as Tolkien) in making his world believable through its characters actions and the ramifications those actions have on the rest of the world. I look forward to another journey through the halls of Westchester Station and, as is proper at the station, please travel well.

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