Saturday, August 6, 2011

Book Review: "Northwest Passage" by John Burnham Schwartz

In his magnificent book, Reservation Road, John Burnham Schwartz traced the lives of two families, the Arnos and the Learners, affected by tragedy and a subsequent cover-up. It has been 13 years since that book was published, and 12 years have passed in the lives of the Arnos and the Learners.

Dwight Arno has rebuilt his life after a stint in prison, and settled in California, far from the Connecticut neighborhood where he lived when he was married. His existence is rather austere—a job managing a sporting goods store, occasional dating, weekend softball games—but he feels this is the life he deserves to live. Into this placidity drops his son, Sam, whom he hasn't seen in 12 years. Sam, an angry college baseball player, flees to California after an incident that leaves him wondering if the sins of the father are truly visited upon the son. And Sam is searching for something else, from his life and from his father, but he has no clue what those things are. The ripples of Sam's reconnection with Dwight, and Dwight's return to Connecticut, touch Ruth, Sam's mother and Dwight's ex-wife, and others.

I still count Reservation Road among one of my favorite books, so I was somewhat concerned about whether a follow-up novel would be on par, and I hoped that the characters wouldn't have changed too drastically. I'm happy to say that Schwartz did an exceptional job revisiting this story, and while this second book lacks a little of the suspenseful nature of the first, it again inhabits the same type of tension-filled environment. All of the characters are flawed in their own way, and you realize how the damages they suffered years ago have shaped them. If I have any criticism, it's that I felt Sam was just so angry and so resentful that it was difficult to engender a great deal of empathy for him until fairly well into the book. In the end, however, it was terrific to have a new book by John Burnham Schwartz, and even better to be able to revisit a story I loved and feel it was worthy. Read this.

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