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. --Patrick O'Kelley...Continua
The novel is told through three differing viewpoints, with a chapter devoted to each point of view. I found this approach to be confusing at the start, but only for the first chapter or two. The reference to another death of a family member that preceded the hit and run served to muddle the initial scenes, but all soon became clear and I settled into the (at times) morose story that was to unfold.
This is a realistic and heart-breaking narrative of grief, of the ramifications of tragedy on a family unit. It is also a journey of growth for the character that is responsible for taking the boy’s life. The only perspective on all of this that we don’t personally gain is that of the eight year old daughter, the sibling of the boy who died. Her parents never stop loving her however their ability to give her the emotional support she needs is challenged by their own grief.
I finished this story with a lump in my throat. It is raw, it is painful, it is challenging to experience the depth of suffering that these characters endure. And it’s all set around a small community where lives are intertwined, secrets are kept and putting on a brave face is exceptionally difficult.
I highly recommend this book. The writing is stunning: beautifully chosen words that cut straight to the heart. It’s not flowery, or wordy, or trying to be anything other than honest – painfully honest. It’s breathtaking to read....Continua