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Reservation Road Hardcover – August 18, 1998

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 292 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1st edition (August 18, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375402632
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375402630
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 5.2 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (86 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,873,196 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

"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.

More About the Author

John Burnham Schwartz grew up in New York City. At Harvard College, he majored in Japanese studies, and upon graduation accepted a position with a prominent Wall Street investment bank, before finally turning the position down after selling his first novel. That book, BICYCLE DAYS, a coming of age story about a young American man in Japan, was published in 1989 on his 24th birthday. It went on to become a critically acclaimed bestseller.

RESERVATION ROAD, his second novel about a family tragedy and its aftermath, published in 1998, was also critically acclaimed and a bestseller, and in 2007 it was made into a major motion picture based on Schwartz's screenplay. The film starred Joaquin Phoenix, Mark Ruffalo, Jennifer Connelly, and was directed by Terry George.

Schwartz went on to publish CLAIRE MARVEL, a love story set in America and France, and, in 2008, THE COMMONER, a novel inspired by the lives of the current empress and crown princess of Japan. Spanning seventy years of modern Japanese history and looking deep into the secret, ancient world of the Japanese Imperial Family, THE COMMONER has won Schwartz the best reviews and sales of his career.

In July of 2011, Random House will publish Schwartz's fifth novel, NORTHWEST CORNER, which picks up the lives of some of the characters from RESERVATION ROAD twelve years later. NORTHWEST CORNER is an urgent, powerful story about family bonds that can never be broken and the wayward roads that lead us back to those we love.

Schwartz's work has been translated into more than 20 languages. He is a recipient of a Lyndhurst Prize for mastery in the art of fiction, and his journalism has appeared widely in such publications as The New Yorker, The New York Times Book Review, The Boston Globe, and Vogue.

Since writing the script for Reservation Road, Schwartz has become an accomplished screenwriter as well as a novelist. He has written screen adaptations of New York Times editor Dana Canedy's memoir "A Journal for Jordan," and Nancy Horan's bestselling novel Loving Frank for Sony Pictures and Lionsgate, respectively. He is currently creating a dramatic television series for Showtime, inspired by Den of Thieves, James Stewart's acclaimed account of the insider-trading corruption scandal of the 1980s.

Schwartz has taught fiction writing at Harvard, The University of Iowa Writers' Workshop, and Sarah Lawrence College, and he is the literary director of the Sun Valley Writers' Conference, one of the leading literary festivals in the United States.

He lives in Brooklyn, NY with his wife, screenwriter and food writer Aleksandra Crapanzano, and their son, Garrick.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By James G. Greenhill on February 5, 2001
Format: Paperback
My favorite writer is Graham Greene & I almost never get the feeling I got when I read "The Quiet American" & knew I'd end up reading everything the man had written; I got that feeling about John Burnham Schwartz reading this excellent, understated, convincing thriller that succeeds in being much more concerned with the people than with the events without being boring. All the characters, including both boys and both wives, are excellently drawn. The book's just a pleasure to read as a piece of craftsmanship, dark subject matter notwithstanding. The only fault I could find is the somewhat sporadic appearance of the Learner dog, who sort of gets forgotten for a while & then suddenly reappears, & that's a very, very minor flaw in an outstanding novel. I'll make a point of reading whatever Schwartz writes.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Steve on January 25, 2001
Format: Paperback
There's an inherent problem in writing (and reading) novels which devote themselves entirely to unexpected death and its aftermath, entirely aside from the fact that it's a subject matter which has been done, and re-done, and overdone since the dawn of fiction, and is therefore very difficult to make fresh, interesting or insightful. The major problem is that the author runs the very real risk of dousing the reader with such unrelenting dreariness that finishing the book is almost a chore. As far as novels about death go, Reservation Road is far better than most. It's thought-provoking, sincere, and, for the most part, avoids melodrama. But there's not much new for Schwartz to explore-if grief is a universal language, the theme of personal loss is a literary staple. The ending of the book (I won't spoil it) is somewhat surprising, and emotionally fulfilling at first-until one gives it serious thought and wonders if the author sacrificed reality for the sake of making "a point" about human nature.
Two things save Reservation Road, however, and make it worth reading. The first is the character of Dwight, whose anguish and self-loathing in the wake of the accident he caused is arresting, complex, and unique. The second is Schwartz's prose, which is lucid and engaging-on occasion, it's even downright eloquent. In the end, the novel is an almost perfect hybrid of Jacqueline Mitchard's far inferior "The Deep End of the Ocean" and James Agee's superior "A Death in the Family." It may not be a lasting work of literature, but it's a good piece of contemporary fiction. I would consider sampling Schwartz's work again.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Deborah A. Woehr VINE VOICE on December 9, 1999
Format: Paperback
When I first picked up the book, I almost put it down because of the subject matter. But it managed to stay with me until I reached the checkout counter and I didn't regret my decision when I began reading it. Mr. Schwartz captured the essence of every character: the mother's intense grief, the father's rage and despair, the lawyer's guilt and shame over the accident the relationship with his family. He captured all that very well. I'd recommend this book to anyone.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By K. Corn TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 8, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
At the heart of this book, are two families, their children, their specific situation. For me, however, the part that held the deepest impact featured the two flawed fathers and their sons. Each father carries a load of guilt and shame, for varying reasons.

Their lives intersect one night, the night the car comes out of nowhere and something happens that no one expects. I KNOW this all sounds vague but I don't want to give much away about the plot but I DO want to say that the characters are so very, very believable that you simply have to know what happens next in the wake of tragedy, how their lives will be affected and what choices they make.

It will be interesting to see what they do with the movie version of this book (reputed to star Elle Fanning, Dakota Fanning's siter) because the subject matter is often dark and painful. It is, of course, in the deep, tragic and unexpected challenges and losses in life where we are forced to question everything we believed we knew about the world - and what to expect.

At the heart of the book is the loss of a child and mostly how his father deals with that fact (he is divorced). Each character in this book has flaws but also heart, soul and substance (at least, I saw them this way).

If you want a cheerful, light read, you won't want pick up this book. If you are a parent (as I am) you may find it painful to get through. But I loved Blue Water (see link below), a book with a similar theme, and each book centers on issues of pain and forgiveness (or lack of it). It cuts to the core. If you are a parent or have lost a child and wonder about the nuances of grief and anger, redemption, forgiveness, etc...then this is a must read!

Also see:

Blue Water: A Novel
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By LJ on February 14, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I had recommended this book to my book club to read. It was voted down. (Their loss they missed a good one) So I went ahead and read it on my own. Im so glad I did. It was such a compelling story. I still keep thinking about it. I have tried to put myself in each of the characters place how would I have handle the situation they were in? I cant imagine it, and there are no easy answers. Which comes through in each of the characters. You can feel their pain and struggle. The characters were so well developed even the children. (Emma Sam and Josh) They just werent bystanders in the story. My heart went out to all of them as if they were real people. Yes even the bad guy who did the unthinkable. Even though I think what he did was horrible and cowardly since he didnt stop. I still felt sorry for him. His life even before the accident seemed to be spinning out of control. He just couldnt get it together. Then this happens. I may have hated what he did but I couldnt hate him. It made for a very emotional read. But I loved it. One of the better books I have read. And to think I first saw it on "Good Morning America: recommended by Charlie Gibson. Thank you Charlie. Its a book I wont soon forget.
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