"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. --Patrick O'Kelley
From Publishers Weekly
"I wasn't rich, but my life was secure. That had always been its fundamental premise," observes Ethan Learner, an English professor at a small college in Connecticut. Moments later, his 10-year-old son, Josh, is killed by a hit-and-run driver, inaugurating a novel of terrible beauty that charts the progress of grief with concerto-like precision. For Ethan, his wife, Grace, and their daughter, Emma, Josh becomes both a cold absence and a constant, haunting, unfulfilled promise. For Dwight ?the driver who killed Josh?the event stands as more evidence of a significantly flawed life. Dwight is no cartoon villain; with a son, an ex-wife and a history of sudden violence, he's like a lesser Ethan?a poor father who, through incompetence, has killed another man's son. Schwartz structures the book with the tautness of a thriller?Will Ethan find his son's murderer??but this book quickly becomes much larger than a simple revenge tale. Neither does it become maudlin or forced. Ethan, Grace and Dwight all seem ruined by the boy's death, but, like three drowning people, they keep fighting for air?aided by Schwartz's strong, measured prose and exquisitely chosen metaphors (describing his now-troubled marriage, Ethan says, "Our house... a wordless, internalized diaspora... a landscape riven with fault lines"). "I want to tell this right," Ethan says several times during the course of the book. The author's first novel, Bicycle Days, gathered solid reviews but modest notice. With this effort, he seems poised to reach a break-out audience. If a story about overwhelming tragedy can be told right, this novel is?telling it with wise observation and abundant humanity. 100,000 first printing; Random House audio; author tour. Agent, Amanda Urban.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.