A violent brawl, a non-act of “gross negligence” and a family’s grief are exhaustively analyzed in this affecting second novel from the Midwestern author of The Cuban Prospect (2003).
In the working-class Pennsylvania backwater of Breed’s Township, 30-ish Casey Fielder takes pride in his skillful management of O’Ruddy’s Restaurant and gratifying relationship with his beautiful girlfriend Rachel—until a rumble in the restaurant’s parking lot between high school “townies” and privileged preppies leaves handsome athlete Colin Chase irreparably brain-damaged. Assuming his wealthy employers’ wish to avoid negative publicity (stemming from an earlier similar incident), Casey doesn’t call the police. A firestorm of outrage ensues, and he loses his job and Rachel’s respect, while plunging into a reckless campaign of subterfuge and lawbreaking to try to clear his name and assuage his guilt. Casey’s downward path is juxtaposed (though it never intersects with) the emotional journey undertaken by Colin’s mother Lea, who knows her only son (an egotistical seducer) is no angel; he has been, in fact, a “troubled, angry boy, yearning to fight and therefore skilled at enraging others.” The full truth of why Colin was singled out by his attackers is both contrived and only partially revealed, as Shawver painstakingly strips away layers of denial and collusion, painting a depressingly realistic picture of “class warfare” and moral instability in everyday America. There are partial echoes of Jane Hamilton’s A Map of the World and Rosellen Brown’s Tender Mercies, but Shawver knows his territory and characters, and his workmanlike thoroughness gives this sad story heartwrenching intensity. Unfortunately, the narrative becomes too often static and repetitious, as even minor incidents and conversational exchanges are tediously overanalyzed.
Nevertheless, an encouraging improvement on Shawver’s bland first novel and, one hopes, a harbinger of even better work to come.