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Book Review – Northwest Corner by John Burnam Schwartz

Synopsis:  The New York Times Book Review called Reservation Road a triumph, and the novel was universally acclaimed. Now, in a brilliant literary performance by one of our most compelling and compassionate writers, John Burnham Schwartz reintroduces us to Reservation Roads unforgettable characters in a superb new work of fiction that stands magnificently on its own. Northwest Corner is a riveting story about the complex, fierce, ultimately inspiring resilience of families in the face of lifes most difficult and unexpected challenges.

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 hasnt revealed the truth about his past. Then an unexpected arrival throws his carefully neutralized life into turmoil and exposes all that hes hidden.

Sam, Dwights estranged college-age son, has shown up without warning, fleeing a devastating incident in his own life. In its way, Sams sense of guilt is as crushing as his fathers. 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.

Told in the resonant voices of everyday people gripped in the emotional riptide of lived life, Northwest Corner is at once tough and heart-lifting, an urgent, powerful story about family bonds that can never be broken and the wayward roads that lead us back to those we love.

First Line:  “Arno – bus.”

Random Quote:  “Mom?

How do you answer?  Except to say, No.  You’re mistaken.  That’s the other one.  The one who raised and loved you right.

“It’s just me.””

Review:  When I was a little girl I believed that we were all characters in the dreams of giants and that we’d better be interesting or they’d watch someone else (and I wasn’t entirely sure what would happen if they did).  I later read Alice Through the Looking Glass and it felt like confirmation.  Perhaps because of this view I’ve always thought of the characters in the books I read as having a life outside of the books.  There’s the time before the story and the window of the story and then whatever happens after.  And we all want to know what  happens next.  Thus the sequel.

Sequels are dangerous, though.  If the territory is too familiar (or too unfamiliar) and the characters aren’t true to themselves the whole thing falls flat and, in many ways, reduces the value of its predecessor.  I approach sequels with caution.

A sequel to the story told in Reservation Road, Northwest Corner is a spare and minimalist novel that packs a huge punch.  We return to the story of Dwight Arno whose horrible mistake cost him just about everything, including contact with his son, Sam.  When Sam turns up on his doorstep, a college senior and varsity superstar, who badly injured another boy in a bar fight.  He’s been expelled from school and criminal charges are imminent.  His only real relationship is with the sister of the the boy his father accidentally hit with his car.

Santa Barbara, CA

This is a dark novel and was hard for me to read because of how much it made me feel.  Schwartz can write and this will haunt me for awhile.  Its minimalist writing style stands in stark relief to the depth of the story (and the tragedy of it).  Not a comfortable read, but a worthwhile one.

FTC Disclosure:  Advance copy from the publisher for Mr. Schwartz’s TLC Book Tour

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I am pleased to be a part of Mr. Schwartz’s TLC Book Tour.

About John Burnham Schwartz

John Burnham Schwartz is the author of the acclaimed novels The Commoner, Claire Marvel, Bicycle Days, and Reservation Road, which was made into a motion picture based on his screenplay.  His new novel, Northwest Corner, will be published on July 26, 2011.  His books have been translated into more than twenty languages and his writing has appeared in many publications, including The New Yorker and The New York Times. A past winner of the Lyndhurst Foundation Award for mastery in the art of fiction, Schwartz is also an accomplished screenwriter, having written films for Focus Features, Sony Pictures and Lionsgate.  He 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, New York with his wife, Aleksandra Crapanzano, and their son, Garrick.
Learn more about Johns work at his website, johnburnhamschwartz.com, and on Facebook.

Don’t forget to visit the other stops on Mr. Schwartz’s book tour for more conversation about this great book.

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