Friday, July 1, 2011

Twelve Years Later

In John Burnham Schwartz's 1998 novel “Reservation Road” a fatal hit-and-run accident has occurred and the story revolves around two fathers – the father of the victim and the driver of the car. Schwartz's new book Northwest Corner picks up the story twelve years later. I didn't read the first novel, and although I started to watch the movie (I'm a big Mark Ruffalo fan), the death of a child and its aftermath was just too dark for me and I bailed.

But when I started reading the sequel I was immediately drawn in. The short (sometimes less than a page) chapters jump between the points of view of five characters: Dwight Arno, the hit-and-run driver who has served prison time and moved to California, his college age son Sam, who was in the car when the crime was committed but was lied to by his father about what had happened, Dwight's ex-wife Ruth, his quasi girlfriend Penny, and Emma, a classmate of Sam's and sister of the accident victim. The most powerful chapters deal with Dwight and Sam. Both father and son are still reeling from the accident and its aftermath. Their emotions are raw, their judgments are flawed, and they are capable of doing to damage to each other. It can be painful to watch as they struggle with their demons, but I couldn't look away.

For me Dwight Arno belongs to Flawed But Decent Male school of Updike's Rabbit Angstrom and Richard Ford's Frank Bascombe. If you didn't find much sympathy for those characters you might want to skip this book. But I was drawn to Schwartz's minimalist style and his ability reveal the humanity in all his characters.

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