Bonnie Brody's Reviews > Reservation Road

Reservation Road by John Burnham Schwartz
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Feb 28, 12

it was amazing
Recommended for: harper simmons, Kesler woodward
Read in June, 2011

I just finished reading Reservation Road by John Burnham Schwartz and, to say I feel stunned, would be putting it mildly. I feel like someone punched me in the chest and left a giant hole in my heart. The book is so good that I barely was able to come up for air.

The story is about a hit and run accident that takes the life of ten year old Josh Learner. He was standing too close to a country road on a dark night and an erratic and racing driver hit him and ran. Josh was killed instantly. Josh was a serious and thoughtful young boy, one who played the violin and loved music. He was close to his sister, Emma, and much loved by his parents.

The grief that comes to his family is like a boundless hole straight to hell. They become shells of themselves. Ethan, Josh's father, wants justice. He wants the police to do something and catch the killer. The police are methodically working to do that but they are intimidated by Ethan's vast swell of rage and pull back from him and also the case. Grace, Josh's mother and Ethan's wife, loses herself in her grief. She is all but a living and walking ghost of who she once was. She barely gets out of bed, no longer cares about her appearance and, for all intents and purposes, is missing in action. Dwight, the driver of the car that killed Ethan is a lawyer with a history of serious anger problems and past rage and violence issues. He can not face what he did and so he runs, little realizing that he is running from himself and the last vestiges of self-respect and humanity that have been left to him.

The story is told from three vantage points: Grace's, Ethan's and Dwight's. Grace has a history of trauma and loss. When she was a little girl, she watched her father keel over and die when he was a young man. She expects the worst to happen and is always ready for it, fearful of living with too much hope for the good in life. Grace is a garden landscape designer and lets all her professional life go down the drain after Josh's death. Ethan is a professor of literature in a small New England college and no longer can find solace in his work or in his studies. He can barely teach his classes. Emma, Josh's sister, is in a chaotic turmoil. She clutches on to her stuffed giraffe and her dog, Nellie, for dear life. She is angry at Josh for leaving and mourns him tremendously at the same time. She does not know how to channel her emotions. Dwight is an attorney who has let his practice slip. He is divorced and gets to see his son, Sam, only on Sundays. These Sundays are difficult for him as he finds it harder and harder to connect with Sam. When Sam was younger, in a fit of rage directed at Sam's mother, Dwight's ex-wife, he accidentally punches Sam in the face, breaking his jaw. After the hit and run, Dwight does not turn himself in. Rather, he turns himself inside out. He lets his business go downhill, his one relationship with a woman die, and takes to drinking more than he should. Neither Dwight nor Ethan can sleep at night and they are drawn and desperate.

Because the police are uncooperative, along with telling Ethan that if Dwight is caught, he'd be lucky to serve one year in jail, Ethan tries to find the perpetrator of this crime on his own. He ends up figuring out who committed the hit and run through innocuous conversations about Dwight's son Sam, along with conversations with Sam.

The horror of the situation for all the adults is vividly explored and profoundly narrated. I felt like I was inside their skin, suffering with them in all their grief, rage, and desperation. I understood Ethan's anger with the police and grasped his horror at their cold and uncaring response to his pleas.

This is a novel that has no lightness. It is heavy and intense, its weight the weight of the world of loss. The characterizations are right on, so true to life and so vividly portrayed that it is heart-wrenching and, at times, heart stopping. It is a beautiful and painful book to read but one that I shall never forget. I feel privileged to have read it and look forward to reading John Burnham Schwartz's new book, Northwest Corner: A Novel, which is a sequel to Reservation Road.

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