Bonnie Brody's Reviews > Northwest Corner

Northwest Corner by John Burnham Schwartz
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Feb 28, 12

Read in August, 2011

Northwest Corner by Jonathon Burnham Schwartz flows like a river. It has deep eddies, grade four rapids and places where the water is so clear that it's like looking in a mirror; places were a reader can rest and catch their breath. It reads as langorously as a William Stafford poem and there is even a nod to Stafford in the book.

Northwest Corner is a sequel to Reservation Road, taking place twelve years after Reservation Road ends. Dwight is working in a sporting goods store in Santa Barbara and has been seeing a woman, Penny, who knows nothing of his past. His son, Sam, has just been involved in a serious bar fight where he beat someone up with his baseball bat so badly that the other young man may not live. Sam leaves Connecticut and takes the bus to Santa Barbara, appearing on Dwight's doorstep. They have not seen each other in twelve years and the meeting is more than awkward. Sam sees his father's rage inside himself and so he heads there, to be with someone like himself.

Meanwhile, Ruth is struggling with the aftermath of breast cancer treatment. The Lerner household is in disarray. The parents have separated and Emma is in her senior year of college waiting to start at Yale. She and Sam Arno get together and it's like a magical life raft for both of them for each of them understands the trauma and pain of the other's family.

Emma feels like the chosen child is the one who has died and that she is left, the shadow child. Her mother has turned cold and hard. Her father is inaccessible as he studies the Talmud and leaves their home for Chicago to immerse himself in his studies.

We watch as Sam tries to find himself and Emma straddles a line between learning what life is about and becoming part of it herself. Sam wonders if he can ever be anything other than his mistake, if all his life will be this one episode of violence, reliving his father's past.

The book's prose sings. It is like reading an epic poem. The writing is so clear and beautiful that I hated to turn a page. It is by far one of the best books I have ever read, and I have read a lot of books. It is certainly on my top ten of the year.

I didn't think a sequel could ever top the original, but this one does. Its fluidity, beauty and maturity are sublime. It's a book not to miss. I do recommend reading Reservation Road first to familiarize oneself with the characters, but be sure not to stop there. This book calls out to be read.

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