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The Sunset Route

Freight Trains, Forgiveness, and Freedom on the Rails in the American West

by Carrot Quinn

The Sunset Route by Carrot Quinn X
The Sunset Route by Carrot Quinn
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  • Linda J. (Ballwin, MO)
    On The Road Again
    Anyone wanting a primer on how the wandering homeless manage to conduct their lives will certainly become educated reading "The Sunset Route." I admit I got rather bored at first, thinking it was another "poor me" book. What kept me going, however, was Carrot's unique writing style. I felt like she just started writing and telling her story without going back and doing endless edits and rewrites Her "free writing" style kept me engaged. I felt like she was sitting across a table from me, and telling her story. The further I got into her book, the more I crawled into her mind.

    Raised by a schizophrenic mother, Barbara, who thought she was the reincarnation of the Virgin Mary, Carrot never knew, from day to day, if she would eat. She attended school, which made me wonder why her teachers seemed to be unaware of her circumstances. Adopted by her strict catholic grandparents when she was 14, Carrot left that home when she was 17. She starts her odyssey across the country, first by hitchhiking, then graduating (if you can call it that) to trains. I did not realize that people still hopped trains and this huge segment of society prefers this way of life. They scour dumpsters for discarded food that they resurrect for meals, and clothing deemed unwearable for anyone but their new owners. They live in punk houses or sleep under the stars, depending on their whereabouts and circumstances at the time.

    Carrot is incredibly self-sufficient, and the more I read, the more impressed I was with her survival skills. She finds jobs to give her enough money for a few months, then she is off again, sometimes with a new friend, sometimes alone. The one constant is her love for her mother, even though Barbara was incapable of love. Carrot wonders where she is, if she's alive, and if so, what should Carrot do?

    Underneath her bravado is the knowledge that her mother had not loved her enough to take care of her. Her traumatic childhood left its mark, and reading Carrot's memoir with her childhood memories is painful, especially realizing that there are many people like Carrot who travel the country, healing themselves.

    I finally realized that she liked her way of life. She did what she wanted to do, with someone or not, whenever she wanted, and going wherever she wanted. From the frigid Alaska landscape through forests, mountains, and deserts, Carrot learns about herself, her limitations (few) and capabilities (many).
  • Chris H. (Wauwatosa, WI)
    open your mind!
    Carrot Quinn is a writer with a rare quality. She shares her life story in an honest and unflinching way. Through her choice of words and style of writing, I could experience what she saw and how she lived - the grit of it. A reader might find Quinn to be self-absorbed living against the norms of society. Some might find her words unsettling. I found her story compelling. Quinn gives the reader the gift of telling her life, without apology, as she lived it, like it or not. As for me I loved it.
  • Jayne A. (Old Saybrook, CT)
    Beautifully Written!
    The Sunset Route by Carrot Quinn is one of the most beautifully written memoirs I have ever read. Carrot writes using brilliant figurative language and vivid imagery that convinces readers to ride along on her journey through a tragic childhood and trips across the country on freight trains. I smelled the diesel fumes, felt her fears and loneliness, saw the blackest skies and brightest stars, tasted her hunger, and heard her most inner thoughts. Carrot had me from page one. I was completely engrossed and couldn't put The Sunset Route down. I highly recommend this book!
  • Jazzmin G. (Ashland, OR)
    The most spirited of tales…
    I loved this book!
    It had such heart. I feel like I was there with Carrot the whole time. Her words were so resonate and raw and I truly admire that kind of bravery when someone chooses to write a memoir. It isn't easy to lay yourself bare like that. The emotional hangover for her must be real. I actually think the memoir genre can be my favorite or least favorite genre depending on how honest it is. I have read stories where the author was clearly afraid of how they would come across and it shows in their writing. Not this girl. I felt the truth in it, the survival, and revival of it. Couldn't recommend it more!
  • Cindy R. (North Miami Beach, FL)
    Poetic desperation
    Carrot Quinn's memoir, THE SUNSET ROUTE is one of the most brilliant books I've read. For Carrot to write so poetically while revealing such desperation, it's not an easy book to absorb. Carrot grows up in Alaska with a schizophrenic mentally-ill mother who speaks to the Virgin Mary, a brother and has no father. She's neglected, hungry more often than not, living moment to moment, surviving. She leaves Alaska at fourteen years old after her mother attempts to strangle her.

    At that point, Carrot makes her way to Portland, falls into a counter culture existence living in punk houses, eating from dumpsters, shoplifting and traveling the country by rail. Carrot is introduced to the memoir, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard which gently leads her to embracing nature, feeling one with the trees and water. This memoir is her bible throughout the story. She lives in forests, homeless camps, exists out of society.

    THE SUNSET ROUTE has a running theme of loneliness, isolation and grief. Carrot believes she is "unlovable trash" and is constantly trying to connect with another human. When she does, it is short lived and she ends up disappointed. Her description of hopping trains, meeting other hobos, living an alternative lifestyle is all interesting, but unsettling at best.

    Towards the end she hasn't seen her mother in eighteen years and feels shame wondering if she should be taking care of her. She learns her mother is alive, and searches for her in Alaska, always a step behind. At the end of the memoir, she discovers long distance hiking making the 10,000 mile trip between Mexico and Canada three times. "I am new, clean and empty as the wind."

    THE SUNSET ROUTE left me rattled after reading Carrot's journey and grateful for my own existence.
  • Lizmarie
    The Sunset Route
    Until reading Carrot Quinn's memoir, The Sunset Route, I held a decidedly romantic view of hopping freight trains and traveling to faraway destinations. I envied my brother's teenage train escapades despite his broken wrist due to a poorly timed leap from a train. Quinn writes vividly of the freezing cold, the dirt and grit, the deafening noise, the inability to breathe in tunnels, and the absence of bathroom facilities. Not so romantic. I felt the cold, the grime and the fear, as well as the exhilaration. And yet Quinn chooses the hardships of the rails over the hunger and cold of her schizophrenic mother's apartment in Alaska. She chooses the Sunset Route instead of the warmth and balanced meals of a home in Arizona with her grandmother and abusive grandfather.

    Despite the poetry of her writing, Quinn's memoir is painful to read. I wept for the physical and emotional abuse she and her brother experienced in Alaska. I was outraged by her father's rejection and abandonment of his family. I was appalled by the failures of schools and social programs to assist the most vulnerable among us.

    The Sunset Route is a tribute to one woman's courage and resilience. With the balm of nature, the love of literature, and the support of some truly unforgettable characters, Carrot Quinn courageously transcends the brutality of her childhood. I will think of her when I hear the train whistle tonight from the warmth of my bed.
  • Diane S. (Batavia, IL)
    The Sunset Route
    Reading this but wrenching memoir, I was constantly amazed by the fortitude if this young woman, but also the strength she had to constantly start over again. She writes with honesty, vulnerability and puts it all out there, no holds barred. Her life with a schizophrenic mother, she and her brother victims of abuse, starvation, homelessness and this from an early age. When finally taken in by her grandparents, she is fed, clothed but still denied the love she craves.

    Drugs and alcohol are never her problem, she only wants to live the best life she can on her own terms. Her lifestyle is not one I could ever embrace, jumping trains, hitchhiking, living place to place, dumpster diving. Trying to come to terms with her past, while finding a viable future. By books end she does find some, but not all of her answers, but she lives a life and lifestyle that suits her at this time.

    I should add that she can definitely write, this book draws one in and makes us see both the pain and searching her life entails. Joy too, though she may not have many material things or many of the things we take for granted, by choice at this point I think, she is rich in both friends and experiences.

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