Sunday, August 7, 2011

Reservation Road by John Burnham Schwartz

Last week I went to our local farmer's market—not for the produce, but because of a used book sale. I found two books, neither of which was on my "to purchase" list: one, in pristine shape, a hard back copy of Reservation Road, the other a vintage mystery from the 1930's.

Once I started reading the hard back I didn't want to stop—even for dinner. On a simple level this is a story about ordinary people caught in a difficult moral muddle and dealing with a devastating loss.

One evening Grace and Ethan are returning home with their two children. The younger girl insists that she needs to stop to use the bathroom—going in the woods is not an option. Ethan has taken a short cut and they finally find a gas station on the remote Reservation Road. Grace takes Emma to the bathroom and Ethan stays with his son Josh until he realizes that he needs something at the gas station. He leaves and his son remains standing besides the car.

The second family implicated in the drama is a splintered family. Dwight and his wife were divorced and it is only recently that he has regained the right to see his son. That particular Sunday they had attended a baseball game and Dwight is unable to get back at 7:00pm. He's speeding and takes Reservation Road because it's a short cut.
It's dark, Dwight looks away, his son is asleep and he's driving on a twisting road. Josh has wandered onto the edge of the road. Then the horror—Dwight hits the boy and instead of stopping he guns the car and leaves the scene.

His son is awakened when the thud of hitting the boy shakes him up and he hits his head on the side of the car. Dwight tells him that they have hit a dog.

For each of the individuals involved the tragedy plays out in a different way. Ethan feels guilty because he left Josh besides the car and didn't remind him to stay close to the car. Emma thinks that her brother's death is her fault because she wanted to stop at the gas station rather than wait until they arrived home. Grace falls apart and can't continue with day to day activities.

Dwight hides his car with its broken front light and thinks about giving himself up , but doesn't have the moral stamina. Arno, Dwight's son, is different after the accident. It's almost as if he knows that there's more to the story.

The moral dilemma that effects each individual plays itself out against the backdrop of a seemingly uninterested policeman. What, for me , makes this a suspense novel is the fact that the driver can not be found and the police give up. Ethan continues the search and follows up on every scrap of new information until he determines who was guilty of the hit and run accident.

Too often writers arrive at the end of a book and the ending is either a let down or not compelling. This is not the case with Reservation Road. The ending is compelling. It's a book that stays with the reader—in a good part because of the writing and the honesty.

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