Northwest Corner by John Burnham Schwartz
I haven’t read a book like this in a long time. It’s a heart-string puller, but not in the annoying way that many chick-lit books attempt to be. It’s truthful, stark and at moments chilling. I’d read Reservation Road by Burnham Schwartz prior to this for an American Modern Fiction lecture at University, and as much as I enjoyed it, it didn’t grab me in the same way that Northwest Corner did.
The book follows five characters’ tales, making up very much one solid story: Dwight, Sam, Ruth, Emma and Penny.
Dwight Arno is a fifty year old man. He works as a manager at a sporting goods shop. His Life seems simple,but it is far from it. 12 years before, Dwight is complicit in a terrible accident and a cover-up which lands him in prison for a substantial amount of time. He lives alone in California, dating a woman who knows nothing of his past and seems unable to move on from his tragedies. He has a son and an ex-wife who he never sees. That is, until one day, Sam turns up on his doorstep.
Sam is in college. Or at least he was. A star athlete with the physical attributes of a lithe, gorgeous god, he is certainly a young man I wouldn’t say no to meeting. But he’s not cocky, he’s not a jock and he’s certainly not happy. Self-deprecating and broody, he struggles to live with the consequences of his past, a past lain out for him, without any way of him changing it. And then Sam makes his own terrible decision, an in-the-moment devastating act that sends him running to the front door of the man he thought he’d never want to see.
Ruth, the mother and ex-wife. With her own battles, a cancerous attack on her femininity, who is frail in body but strong in mind. Sam is the apple of her eye and her every mood can depend on his smallest of actions. A baseball bat to a stomach sends her world spiraling and memories cascade into her everyday narrative.
Emma, the sister of a killed boy. Spending summer at home helping her mother. A chance meeting with Sam brings their history to the surface.
Penny is Dwight’s lover. It’s not serious and it might already be over before it even really began. But his revelations get her thinking about the future.
I think the reason I was so taken with this book was the use of language. It was absolutely beautiful, lyrical and fluid. It’s a book for those quiet moments, that deafens out the commuters, the trains and the children who won’t stop crying that you’d like to punch in the face.