Friday, July 8, 2011

Reservation Road by John Burnham Schwartz

I read somewhere, probably NPR (because that's where I normally get all of my stuff to read) that John Burnham Schwartz had a new book out but he's perhaps best known for Reservation Road, so I was determined to read this one first to see if I liked it before I delved into the new stuff.

After a wonderful, peaceful and idyllic summer concert, a youngish family is driving to their home one evening. The Lehrners think that their night has been perfect.  The couple pulls into a little gas station in Wyndham Falls, CT so that Emma, the eldest child, can use the bathroom. Grace, her mother, accompanies her. Ethan Lehrner, the father, remains outside momentarily with Josh, their son. He is there long enough to tell Josh to get away from the side of the road before he goes inside as well to buy some windshield wiper fluid. Within a matter of seconds, a dark blue car plows around the corner and hits Josh, throwing him feet into the air and away from the side of the road and killing him instantly.  This all happens in the first chapter. The car, driven by local lawyer Dwight Arno (who is accompanied by his ten year old son and who is in a rush to return him to his mother after a baseball game has gone too long) doesn't even pause; he continues on and tells his sleepy, groggy son that they have hit a dog.

In essence, the remaining portion of the novel is about how an average seeming family (not really *average* in the sense that both parents are moderately successful) attempts to cope with a tragic loss and a failed criminal investigation. It is also about how the driver, Attorney Arno, deals with his role as the person that hit a boy the same age as his son.

I was just beginning to cope with a massively painful ear infection (including a ruptured ear drum) while reading this book, so it's safe to say that I was somewhat distracted while navigating through this novel; however, it still managed to reach to me and talk to me. I attribute this, in part, to the fact that I have my own children, so I could relate to the feelings that Grace and Ethan had in dealing with the tragedy of their son's loss and their sense of a lack of justice. At the same time, I could also empathize with Dwight Arno because his life and his crime is the sort of thing that I deal with on a daily basis. I really enjoyed how Schwartz wrote this novel.  Schwartz, somehow, manages to have razor sharp insight into all of the emotions and actions of just about every character in this novel from Emma, (a "tween" girl) to Dwight (an alcoholic, abusive loser) to Grace (who falls into the depths of despair so much so that she can't get herself out) to Ethan, her husband, who will go to any length to figure out what happened to his son. Schwartz has a seemingly endless capacity to see into the depths of the souls of each of his characters; so much so that one wonders if he has ever experienced something like this before (or has known a family that has!).

I absolutely adored this book.  And I look forward to reading more by Mr. Schwartz in the future.

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