Northwest Corner skips 12 years and we find ourselves looking at what life has left behind for the characters of Schwartz’s Reservation Road. Reservation Road, critically acclaimed and made into a movie of the same name, is about a lawyer in a small-town Connecticut who accidentally runs over a little boy. Dwight, the lawyer, tries to hide what he has done but the dead boy’s father is relentless and tracks Dwight down. Reservation Road leaves the reader when Dwight has to face his crime and go to prison.
Fast forward all these years later, Dwight has been released and redeemed and now resides in California, as far away from the scene of his crimes as he can get. Left behind in Connecticut, his ex-wife, Ruth, has just recently finished her second marriage and is focusing her attention on yet another of life’s battles, cancer. Dwight’s son, Sam, the same age as the boy killed, is now on verge of graduating college. At twenty-two years old, Sam finds that he may be more like the father he hasn’t seen since he was twelve, than he expected. When Sam’s actions get out of control in bar fight, he runs, not unlike his father, directly to his father.
The characters of Northwest Corner are poetically hopeless. They have learned the hard lessons of life more times than any one of them wants to count. They know that things can always get worse, no matter how bad it already is. Yet, Schwartz conveys to the reader that there may still be hope, that all may not be lost, even if the characters don’t know it. Dwight may hate himself but even so, every day he gets up and carries a kernel of optimism that maybe he can make some amends. Sam has the weight of the world on his shoulders and no regard for himself but that doesn’t stop the tenderness he feels for his mother. Ruth sees her grown son slipping away and struggles with finding peace in solace and craving the company of her son, no matter the circumstances.
Schwartz’s characters are complex, fluid, and human. In many ways, Schwartz reinforces the fear that we are all one step away from disaster, but at the same time, he tells us that if the worse happens, maybe it can get better and it’s not the end. Top this complexity with the words of a poet and you know why you must read Northwest Corner.
Northwest Corner by John Burnham Schwartz was received free for review by Boston Book Bums