Monday, 7 February 2011

Book Review: Reservation Road by John Burnham Schwartz

Reservation Road is about the aftermath of a horrific incident; Ethan and Grace Learner's young son Josh is killed one summer night in a hit and run.  However the driver isn't just a faceless figure that disappears into the night.  Instead we get to know him through a first person narrative.  It turns out the Learners know the killer too.  Dwight is a divorced mess of a lawyer who's still obsessed with his ex wife and has violent tendancies.  His ex wife taught Josh piano.  Josh was a gifted piano player - a trait which seems employed to increase the poignancy; Josh had so much to lose.

I wanted to read this book because of Schwartz's narrative stance.  He uses alternating perspectives: Ethan, Grace and Dwight.  So we get three perspectives on the horrible event and see how it alters everything, including the Learners' marriage.  However rather oddly we get a first person narration for the boys (father Ethan and killer Dwight) but a third person for Grace.  I have no idea why.  Perhaps it's to show her emotional distance?  I found her quite hard to connect with, but she's zoned out and in shock so I guess this makes sense.  Or perhaps Schwartz felt he couldn't write from a feminine perspective?  Whatever the reason I found it quite disconcerting, like I wasn't getting the whole picture.  There wasn't really much to differentiate Ethan and Dwight's voice either.

I think it dipped at the end.  I won't give it away but it wasn't really what I expected and didn't feel true to the rest of the book.  But I still enjoyed it; there are some really evocative pieces suggesting the seasons, passage of time and memories and we do get a glimpse of grief.  Bit of a strange one though.  There's a film of it apparently, but I haven't seen it yet.

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