Swing Batter: a review of Northwest Corner by John Burnham Schwartz

Northwest Corner: A NovelI confess, though I have seen the movie, I have yet to read Reservation Road, John Burnham Schwartz's precursor to his latest novel, Northwest Corner. However, this may be a good thing since it allows me to better judge this novel's ability to stand on its own. It does. The reader is refreshed on the occurrences of the parent novel, yet not overwhelmingly so. You get the idea: A man accidentally runs over another man's child in front of a gas station. This other man, who happens to live in the same town as the errant driver, witnesses this event while his wife and other child are in the restroom. The driver, Dwight Arno in a moment of flight or fight, flees the scene as his sleeping son rouses in the backseat.

Schwartz continues his tragedy as that same sleepy, curious boy from the backseat of his father's memory steps up to bat at a UConn baseball game. Now college age, Sam Arno seems to be striking out in many ways. The curtain rises on his latest whiff. The bat never leaves his shoulder at the plate, but the crescendo of shame and pain build too high for it to lay idle for too long. Suffice to say, the troubled youth soon finds himself in trouble, and, like his old man before him, runs away from it.

The story is told affectingly through alternating point-of-view short chapters: Dwight Arno, the only first person character in the book, has moved, after doing some time in the joint, to the west coast, as far away as was possible it seems, where he's found a job as a sporting goods manager. Ruth, his ex-wife, still living in the same lonely Connecticut house, seems lost with her only anchor to happiness away at the university. Emma, the sister of Dwight's victim, wrestles with her feelings in the wake of a high school romance with who else but Sam. Penny is Dwight's love interest in the West, perhaps a false start for both of them. Other than acting as a kind of ballast, I'm not sure why her character was even necessary to the tale. And Sam, who seems to have yet fully awaken from his backseat nap that fateful night.

John Burnham Schwartz
Northwest Corner is at its heart a tale of rebirth, of starting over. The very title, besides making reference to the edge of the Connecticut county where Ruth resides and where Dwight returns, connotes the top left, the starting point on a page, an apt place to begin again. What these characters all have in common is that they are stuck, blocked, blinded; they need a fresh start, a new chance at a life, but first they must confront the old one. Relationships need mending, or at least need to be addressed. They all must mature enough to square up and face their failures, in some cases quite literally, for it to be even possible to begin to write the next chapter of their lives; whether it be together or alone, I'll let you discover for yourself.

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Random House (July 26, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400068452
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400068456

~Book Jones~ 4,0 Stars