Saturday, August 13, 2011

Northwest Corner by John Burnham Schwartz

Welcome to the TLC Book Tour of John Burnham Schwartz's Northwest Corner.

The blurb:
Twelve years after a tragic accident and a cover-up that led to prison time, Dwight Arno, now fifty, is a man who has started over without exactly moving on.  Living alone in California, haunted yet keeping his head down, Dwight manages a sporting goods store and dates a woman to whom he hasn't revealed the truth about his past.  Then an unexpected arrival throws his carefully neutralized life into turmoil and exposes all that he's hidden.

Sam, Dwight's estranged college-age son, has shown up without warning, fleeing a devastating incident in his own life.  In its way, Sam's sense of guilt is as crushing as his father's.  As the two men are forced to confront their similar natures and their half-buried hopes for connection, they must also search for redemption and love.  In turn, they dramatically transform the lives of the women around them: the ex-wives, mothers, and lovers they have turned to in their desperate attempts to somehow rewrite, outrun, or eradicate the past.

You don't need to have read or watched Reservation Road to appreciate the characters, their dilemmas or the writing in Northwest Corner.   Schwartz captures the complexity, heaviness, and hopelessness so well.
  • Dwight Arno at fifty. He's been released from prison and built a new life on the other side of the country, surrounded by people that don't know his past.  Only his employer knows about his record and it has never been an issue at the sporting goods store where he works.  His old life as a corporate lawyer in Connecticut with a family and a beautiful house is another life altogether.
  • Sam Arno, a college athlete, who runs from his own tragedy.  We learn how his childhood was tainted by his father's reputation and how Sam has worked to create a normal life for himself.  The friendships that he's kept and the one girl that he is drawn to add another layer to the story.
  • Ruth, Sam's mother, faces problems of her own. As she struggles with medical issues, she fights her instinct to contact her son.  Schwartz captures the delicate balance that we often fail to meet as we try to give people the space that they seem to want
The small actions and quiet dialogue convey so much emotion and complex personal histories.  I'm tempted to quote so many passages to show the power of Schwartz's writing.
"He eyes me skeptically, in no rush whatsoever. A hint of ownership in his gaze, as if I'm a second car and he's checking me out for dings.  And it occurs to me, and not for the first time, that he's the only person in the state who knows my official record.  Information that from the start he's promised to keep confidential, so long as I live up to the responsibility given to me.  As it's turned out, I've earned his trust and we've become friends.  Not partners but teammates of a kind - the way I guess the lug man in the pit crew is a member of the team, due his share on payday, even if not cut out for the bright lights of the winner's circle."
Northwest Corner is a powerful, engrossing read.  Authentic and beautifully written, Northwest Corner isn't a light summer read, but it's a book that will stay with you long after you've finished reading.

ISBN-10: 1400068452  Hardcover $26.00
Publisher: Random House; 1St Edition edition (July 26, 2011), 304 pages.
Review copy provided by TLC Book Tours and the publisher.

About the Author:
John Burnham Schwartz is the author of four previous novels: The Commoner, Claire Marvel, Bicycle Days, and Reservation Road, which was made into a movie based on his screen play.  A winner of the Lyndhurst Foundation Award for mastery in the art of fiction, Schwartz has taught at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, Harvard University, and Sarah Lawrence College, and is currently literary director of the Sun Valley Writers' Conference.  He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and son.