"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 received favourable reviews when first published in 1989, but seemed very much an autobiographical first novel. His second fiction, Reservation Road, is, however, 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
--"The New York Times"
"A dark and irresistible miracle: a heartbreaking thriller."
--"Los Angeles Times"
"Thrums with suspense and moral ambiguity. . . . This is one of those rare . . . novels that you don't so much read as inhabit and that makes everyday life seem altogether mysterious."
"A triumph . . . character-driven. . . . swift and complete."
--"The New York Times Book Review"