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NORTHWEST CORNER by John Burnham Schwartz Kirkus Star


by John Burnham Schwartz

Pub Date: July 26th, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-679-60511-9
Publisher: Random House

In this sequel, 12 years have passed since the fatal hit-and-run at the center of Schwartz’s Reservation Road (1998), and the focus turns from the father of the victim to the perpetrator of that crime and his long-estranged, now-grown son.

Former lawyer Dwight Arno served 30 months in prison for fleeing the scene after the car he was driving struck and killed his son Sam’s second-grade classmate. Dwight is building a tentative new life in California managing a sporting-goods store and dating Penny, a literature professor. He has had no contact with Sam for years. So he’s unprepared and a little thrilled when Sam, a college senior and varsity baseball star, suddenly shows up at his doorstop. Dwight feels he has been given a second chance at fatherhood, however strained the peace between them remains. Then Sam’s mother Ruth, who had already divorced Dwight before the accident and has recently left her second husband after a brush with breast cancer, informs Dwight why Sam has fled to California: He badly injured another boy in a bar fight, the boy is in critical condition, the university has expelled Sam and criminal charges may be brought. Ruth is fiercely protective of Sam. Soon she arrives to take him home to Connecticut. Dwight follows. Sam, horrified by his own capacity for violence and deeply confused, turns for support to Emma, the surviving sister of the boy Dwight killed; although their parents know nothing of their long-term relationship, the two understand each other’s pain. Ruth and Dwight struggle to find a common ground, while Penny realizes that learning the truth about Dwight’s past does not stop her feelings for him. Schwartz (The Commoner, 2008, etc.) uses a minimalist approach. The tone of the brief chapters is matter-of-fact, sometimes harsh. The characters, Sam and Dwight especially, are damaged souls capable of damaging others. But readers will grow to care deeply about whether and how their lives can be redeemed.

Stark and deeply effecting.