Sunday, October 21, 2007

Julie's Review: Reservation Road

Summary: Explain this to me: One minute there is a boy, a life thrumming with possibilities, and the next there are marked cars and strangers in uniform and the fractured whirling lights. And that, suddenly, is all the world has to offer." This is the voice of Ethan Learner, a college professor who has just watched his 10-year-old son, Josh, die in a hit-and-run accident on a silent Connecticut road.
John Burnham Schwartz's Bicycle Days (1989) received favorable reviews but seemed very much an autobiographical first novel. His second fiction, Reservation Road, however, is a book that resists genres: a tragedy where all the characters are flawed and none are entirely guilty; a thriller where the killer, Dwight, wants to be caught but is too laden with self-loathing to turn himself in; and an experimental novel where the narrative jumps gracefully among three perspectives.

In the opening pages Schwartz establishes strong connections between fathers and sons. Moments before the accident Ethan watches his son standing precariously close to the curb; he sees possibilities in Josh, a shy boy whose musical gifts indicate a sensitivity that is no less present, though more mature, in his father. At the same time, Dwight and his son, Sam (also 10), are rushing home from an extra-innings Red Sox game where Dwight tries to rebuild the fragments of attachment left after a bitter divorce. Schwartz reveals depth in simple gestures--a hand, for example, placed in a hand, only to be self-consciously pulled away. Dwight drives on after hitting Josh, though he slows in a moment of hesitation in which Ethan hears him calling "Sam" or "Sham"--he's not sure which. Out of grief, and with only scattered clues, Ethan begins his quiet pursuit of the killer, a pursuit that fuels the novel to its poetic conclusion. In Reservation Road, John Burnham Schwartz has crafted a lasting work of literature, a page-turner that's also a rich character study.

Review: I had high hopes for this book. It started off with good momentum and then fizzled. It wasn't until the the last 30 pages did the book come to a climax and abrupt end. In fact I wasn't sure it ended the way it did and had to go back and read the final few pages.

I found that the characters were 2 dimensional and sterotypical in their reaction to the tragedy. For the parents of the young boy killed, the mother, Grace, retreats into herself and the father, Ethan, retreats into the books he's always loved and found comfort in. They have a daughter, Emma, who is mentioned in passing and her grief is somewhat addressed. I actually think the book might have been better if told from her point of view, even though she's 8. The other man and his son, Dwight and Sam, have a torrid relationship that I won't get into in case you pick up and read the book. I found myself not really caring for any of the characters and their plights. Dwight has had a hard adult life and retreats into the bottle to try and deal with the pain he has caused. There is a one twist that I really didn't see coming and was a nice surprise but the author didn't elaborate on it or use it how I thought it might have been used. I disagree that this book is a rich character study, because I found the characters to be predictable and not really likeable. The only likeable characters were the children.

As a parent, I can not imagine the pain and suffering these parents are going through and hope I never have to, but I couldn't identify with the mom and to make me buy into this story I think it would haven helped.

To be honest, I bought this book because a friend told me that Jennifer Garner was going to be in the movie version, only to find out that was not the case. I do want to see the movie version because of the cast (Reservation Road) and because I think it might be a better movie than book, which is usually not the case.

If you have the book on your shelf, read it, if not you aren't missing a masterpiece of contemporary fiction.

Final Take: 2.75/5

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