Thursday, August 11, 2011

Northwest Corner

Northwest Corner by John Burnham Schwartz
Random House, July 2011
Hardcover, 304 pages
ISBN-13: 9781400068456

Very Highly Recommended

From the Cover:
John Burnham Schwartz reintroduces us to Reservation Road’s 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 life’s 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 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.

My Thoughts:

Northwest Corner by John Burnham Schwartz continues the story from his novel Reservation Road.  Dwight Arno is now fifty years old and out of prison. He is now living in California and is the manager of a sporting goods store. Dwight is surprised by an unexpected visitor, his estranged son, Sam. Sam has left college in Connecticut and is running from something he has done. Northwest Corner examines the lives of ordinary men and woman who are all damaged in some way and are all searching for meaning and redemption.

All the chapters are short and each one is from the point of view of a different character. Rest assured, though, that you do not need to have read Reservation Road in order to appreciate Northwest Corner. For those who have read Reservation Road, the characters include: Dwight, Sam, Ruth, Penny (Dwight's girlfriend), and Emma Learner.   

Schwartz explores his damaged characters, their desires and fears, while slowly building an emotional tension that should resonate with most readers. The characters are all so very, very real - so true to life.The sheer raw emotion that leaps off the page is heart wrenching, yet does not feel manufactured.  The characters feel like real people. You know these people. You feel their sadness and despair. You may have been through circumstances similar to these tortured souls. You will hope that they find redemption, that there is some resolution to their pain.

This is an incredible novel, exquisitely written. Schwartz is a gifted, poetic writer with a keen sharp insight into human character. There are observations throughout the novel that are brilliant gems of perfect cut and clarity.  His descriptions transport you into the scene with the characters. While the plot itself is not full of action, the emotional landscape explored is packed full to overflowing.

Very Highly Recommended - one of the best


“Arno — bus.”
Coach dips out of the locker room. Sam listens to the footsteps echoing down the long corridor and only now, knowing he’s the last, removes the towel draped over his head. He picks up the thirty-one ounce aluminum bat lying by his feet, jams it into the UConn duffel with the rest of his gear, and zips the bag closed.  opening

Jake’s voice is almost insultingly tender. The comfort you receive when, bases loaded and two out in the tenth inning of the college playoffs, you strike out without taking a swing, ending your team’s season.  pg. 3

O’Doul’s is hot and crowded, the walls painted dark. A long time, Sam stands drinking by himself. When a stool at the bar finally opens, he slides onto it, the UConn duffel shoved down into the sawdust-and-gum shadows at his feet. A Bacardi mirror with fogged glass hangs above the backbar next to a St. Pauli Girl clock, the clock’s hands frozen at twelve minutes to six, permanent happy hour.  pg. 5

Listen to me. These are the sorts of thoughts that too often come back while you're spending thirty months in the hole. And after, too. There's violence in the air even when nothing is happening. pg. 7-8

My red plastic SoCal Sports tag says Dwight Arno, Manager in clear white letters. Under expected circumstances I would be a figure of rectitude and probity.
To which I can add that I still want to be. pg. 9

Rage rises in him like animal blood. And suddenly everything but what burns inside him is underwater-quiet. He doesn't think; at last he just becomes. pg. 11

According to the law, as I still recall it, words are our fate, perhaps our character, too: they will make us or break us. But the gloomier truth is that the breakage usually happens in an instant, life changing in a single wordless act. The words are the last thing you hear before you slip into the darkness of afterward, mere nails in the coffin. pg. 25

Because it's been like this for so long - half Emma's entire life - that the memory of that earlier, supposedly happy time is like an old sheet that's been washed too many times: thin, stained, torn, in places translucent - you can see right through it.
And that's what life is now. pg. 42

Her parents were close and loving once, she is almost certain. There are photos that stand as, if not proof, then emotional attestations to familial and marital happiness, what human lives produce instead of proof. pg. 54

... a "practical relocation," her parents call it, as if she's a head case and can't tell the difference: separation, divorce, the long, cold withdrawal into an ever smaller and more isolated chamber of the heart. pg. 55

A boy and his dad. Folks as good as extinct now, or at best reduced to cheap replicas of themselves in foreign lands. pg. 71

But who, she desperately needs to know, will be there in the end to see her over to the other side? pg. 77

A hard breath taken into the lungs: washing out the unsaid things that seem to clot any room, even this moving one, in hitch they find themselves together. pg. 147

You cannot reach fifty years of age and still think that nothing is better than something, unless you are a fool as well as an a**hole. Despite what the mathematicians assure us, zero is not a meaningful number in real life. pg. 157

Because if you are not taken in, if exile is as guaranteed as death, then you are kicked out and alone.
Who will have you then? Who? The fire is no more. The fire that was love. pg. 174

Disclosure: As a part of TLC Book Tours I received a copy of this book for review purposes.


John Burnham Schwartz’s TLC Book Tours TOUR


Anonymous said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed this one. It sounds amazing! Thanks for being a part of the tour. I'm featuring your review on TLC's Facebook page today.

Book Dilettante said...

It's great when you read a really good book!