Welcome to the TLC Book Tour for Northwest Corner
Dwight Arno was an attorney with a wife and young son until he got behind the wheel of a car after drinking. He struck and killed one of his son’s classmates, then fled from the scene. He served a prison term and became estranged from his only child.
Now, twelve years later, Dwight is a fifty-year-old manager of a sporting goods store living in Arenas, California, not far from Santa Barbara. He has not seen his son, Sam, in all those years. Dwight leads a solitary life in which some days are better than others, meaning that on some days he is less haunted by his past than others. He is dating a divorced professor to whom he has not revealed the truth about his past.
Sam has become a stand-out baseball player on the University of Connecticut team. He is just weeks away from graduating when he becomes involved in a violent incident and, like his father, runs. When he unexpectedly turns up on Dwight’s doorstep, Dwight wants to reestablish an emotional connection with his son and help him deal with his current circumstances. Meanwhile, Sam’s mother, Ruth, is at home in Connecticut, battling her own demons.
Author John Burnham Schwartz has been described as a “minimalist” writer. For the most part, he neither reveals his characters’ internal dialogues nor devotes many words to exposition. Rather, he simply lets the characters’ behavior and choices speak for themselves. Schwartz clearly understands that less truly can be more. The result is an exquisitely straight-forward, deeply moving story of a family shattered by a tragic incident more than a decade earlier from which none of the individual members have regained their equilibrium. Only another devastating act of violence forces them to finally come to terms with what they have endured and how it has impacted each of them.
The story is told in successive chapters from the various characters’ viewpoints, but only that experiences of Dwight Arno are related in a first-person narrative. Dwight is quietly tormented by his behavior, but has moved to California and started a new life. His job is tolerable because he has developed a congenial relationship with the owner of the sporting good store and is dating a woman for whom he feels affection, but to whom he has not had the courage to reveal the truth about his past. He misses Sam and sends him a Christmas card each year containing a financial gift, but has had no relationship with him for more than a decade. Dwight’s deep-seated self-loathing and anger with himself simmers just below the surface, but the delicately balanced life he has crafted for himself is interrupted by Sam’s sudden appearance in Arenas. Dwight wants to help his son, but approaches the situation slowly, waiting for Sam to open up to him about what he has experienced.
For the past twelve years, Sam has carried his own personal shame and sorrow in the aftermath of his father’s conduct. Ironically, the one person to whom he has been close is Emma, the sister of the young boy his father struck and killed. With Emma, he shares a kinship born of loss and mourning. For Sam, his current troubles are the self-fulfilling prophecy that he has long feared and anticipated. Like father, like son? He has wondered for too many years and now it appears that he may have found the profoundly disturbing answer to that question. Schwartz’s exploration of the subtly devastating manner in which a parent’s mistakes can impact an impressionable child is delicately and movingly constructed. Sam’s story is a heartbreakingly believable cautionary tale for parents.
Of course, Sam can only hide for so long and eventually he must face the consequences of his actions, just as Dwight did years ago. But Dwight is not ready to let go of the son he has only recently reclaimed, and that brings him face to face with his ex-wife, Ruth. Just like Sam, Ruth is scarred by Dwight’s choices but she has learned to soldier on, largely because when Dwight was sent to prison, she had to finish raising Sam. Now, however, she is determined that she will not lose her son to the same kind of fate as his father, and struggles to discern precisely how to help him. Eventually, of course, Sam has to help himself because he is twenty-two years old and must stand on his own.
Schwartz’s writing is remarkable because each of his characters is seriously flawed, but there are no villains in the story. Rather, his characters struggle to make good choices and decisions, but sometimes fail spectacularly. Of course, because every action invokes a reaction, Schwartz’s examination of the way Dwight’s behavior continues to impact the lives of his family, Emma and her family, and the community is authentically and convincingly detailed. The result is a riveting story about the tenuous bonds that hold families together and the myriad ways in which one’s past experiences inform future choices. At its core, Northwest Corner is an understated but powerful story about our capacity to forgive and the potency of second chances. I highly recommend Northwest Corner.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one copy of Northwest Corner free of charge from the author in conjunction with the TLC Book Tours review and virtual book tour program. I was not required to write a positive review in exchange for receipt of the book; rather, the opinions expressed in this review are my own. This disclosure complies with 16 Code of Federal Regulations, Part 255, “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
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