A GOOD DOCTOR'S SON by Steven Schwartz


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 Prize-winning storywriter Schwartz's second novel (Therapy, 1994) is the well (if conventionally) told tale of a teenaged boy whose life comes close to being destroyed by guilt. David Nachman's mother is depressed and stays in her room all day (she never did want to move to Garden City, a working class ``pocket'' near Swarthmore, PA), his M.D. father works interminable hours, and his older brother Adrian is a nerdy superbrain who does nothing all day but read in his room. So much for family life. Add to this emotional entropy the fact that the Nachmans are also the only Jews in Garden City (David tries to ``pass,'' while Adrian tries to hide), and you get an idea of how David, in his early teens, could fall in with a bunch of dumb hoodlums who at least give him a precarious sense of belonging. When he and they, however, have a reverse drag race (driving backward), David's car goes out of control (he doesn't even have his license yet), jumps a curb, and kills a three-year-old girl. Instantaneously, the life of the girl's family is altered and near-ruined, and so is David's. In scenes often moving and written close to the bone, David wrestles with execrable loneliness and self-consciousness at school, swallows a bottle of his mother's Valium, and gradually begins a slow journey that includes a tentative reuniting of his own family, an exploration of faith, including that of a group of Quakers--and then girls, courtship, marriage, and children of his own. However vividly observed and capably written, David's story becomes increasingly attenuated--and normal--as the long-ago accident and disastrous backward race recede more deeply into the past. And as this happens, Schwartz's novel also loses the Dostoyevskian power it begins with, gliding inexorably toward a Rothian tale of sweet recollection and suburban life. Schwartz is a gifted writer, but his premise here doesn't entirely sustain his talent.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-688-15401-8
Page count: 276pp
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1st, 1997


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