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Northwest Corner by John Burnham Schwartz

Pub Date:

Northwest Corner
John Burnham Schwartz

Random House
7-22-11
Hardcover/304 pages
ISBN: 978-1400068456
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". . . promises much and falls short on the payoff."

Dwight is a manager of a sporting goods store in California, far from the scene of a fatal accident. After twelve years of prison and losing his family and position, he is still running, living a half-life that is respectable but nothing compared to what he had before the accident that changed his life.

His son Sam is in college and is running from his own mistake. Sam runs to his father in California in hopes he can outdistance the trouble and that Dwight will help him out. Things are about to get complicated.

In this sequel to Reservation Road, John Burnham Schwartz continues his story twelve years after an accident shattered the lives of two families, bringing them together in California with a whole new set of trouble. The thing about running is that the past always catches up.

Northwest Corner is, like most sequels, lacking in the complexity and poignancy of Reservation Road. The characters are the same, with a few more miles on them, and time has ticked away, leaving Schwartz with a convoluted tale from several points of view that get bogged down in Schwartz’s attempt to twist metaphor into literary pretzels that often fail to make sense. There are brilliant moments quickly swallowed by details that do not move the story forward and are confusing.

In trying to continue the story in the wake of his previous success, Schwartz has allowed the art to get in the way of telling a good story, often taking chapters to say what could have been said in a page or less. Schwartz’s writing is over wrought and sometimes artful, but he fails to catch fire. The characters’ inner monologues are intense navel gazing without reaching a truth or answer. I doubt anyone would plumb to those depths whatever the reason or the payoff.

I would recommend reading Reservation Road first or much of the meat of the story and the motives will not make sense. Even so, Northwest Corner promises much and falls short on the payoff.

Reviewer: J.M. Cornwell