Reservation Road Book Review

(Series 1:1 New Year’s Edition)

I don’t have any solid New Year’s resolutions this year. I didn’t make a list or set any tangible goals. I just said the usual: I’ll eat healthier, workout more, save money, blah blah blah. I don’t want to set any specific goals this year since they don’t seem to work for me.

If you’ve been reading this blog a while you might recall a reading goal I set last year. In 2021, I read 14 of 40 books. Yikes. Compared to 22 books in 2019 and 31 books in 2020 that is insanely low. When I started thinking about why that is I realized that I was focusing too hard on the number and too little on the plan. 

I read on and off every couple of weeks last year, and never had a stable schedule that would allow me the room to set a standard reading time. I also had a lot going on personally that made my priorities shift for several months. Luckily, almost all of those things are finally resolved this year.

Now I have the schedule and space to start reading and creating again. I read during set times, and I make it a priority.

I’m saying all of this because this is the first book review of a series of book reviews I’m doing this year. They may not all turn out long and well thought out, but I want to do a written review for each book I finish this year so I can reflect on what I’m reading and what I’m learning from it. I also think it’ll be a neat way to keep myself engaged in reading and writing throughout the year. Not really a resolution, but a plan.

Reservation Road is going to be the starting point for this series.

Reservation road, by John Burnham Schwartz, was released in 1998 (My birth year!).

The movie was released in 2007, but I don’t want to get too into the movie (since I still have 20min to finish watching), but if you read the book first you’ll notice it’s very different from the movie. Different isn’t necessarily bad, but in this case I wasn’t really a fan of the movie since it changed the way characters acted and changed a lot of the story and outcomes. Also they changed character names. What is the point in that aside from annoying the readers?

Reservation Road is a story that displays the aftermath of a fatal car crash that leaves one father without a son, and another father in a complicated situation that could make him lose his son as well.

The tear jerker is told from three perspectives. The two fathers of the boys (Ethan and Dwight), and the mother of the deceased boy (Grace).

The changes in perspective are what kept the novel interesting and heartbreaking. With each shift in perspective there was a different story of grief and loss. Everyone had lost something, and everyone was dealing with grief, loss, and guilt differently.

The shifts in perspective showed how each character felt on the inside, how their grief affected them and their thoughts, and how other characters were perceiving them at the time.

Spoiler alert. There will be spoilers for the rest of this review.

Dwight, whose son is alive (Sam), is the one who ran over the other boy (Josh). It was an accident, but it turned into a hit and run when Dwight decided to drive off from the scene of the crime.

Though Ethan and Grace (Josh’s mother) really shouldn’t have felt guilty, they did. Ethan felt guilty for not telling his boy to get out the road and leaving him outside for a minute alone, and Grace felt guilty for insisting on stopping at the gas station. Emma (Josh’s little sister) even felt guilty for asking to go to the bathroom on their road trip. 

Then we have Dwight. His side of the story was mostly biased to his perspective, but he had a few chance encounters with Ethan and Grace in the story that helped reflect on just how guilty he felt. He almost turned himself in several times, but we see that he is too much of a self-centered coward for that. I had empathy for Dwight, given that his main issue was that he didn’t want to lose his son if he were caught for his hit and run, but I still didn’t feel as much for him since the center of his struggle came from his custody battle. He had a history of violence, and when attempting to punch his ex-wife one time, he accidentally punched his own child in the face.

The book did make a point that Dwight was a changing man after that, but since he was under so much stress from his guilt he was starting to digress a little. This made his relationship with his son more unstable. It broke my heart to see his son Sam starting to become so bitter. His dad did this all for him, yet he still couldn’t bring himself to be the father he wanted to be.

Either way, most of my empathy went towards the main couple’s struggles. I loved Ethan and I empathize with his and Grace’s pain a lot. I worried the whole book that his guilt and blame would lead him and his wife to divorce, and would ultimately make his daughter Emily’s life tougher. That’s why, even though the ending is bittersweet, I was extremely pleased with the final chapter of this novel.

There’s another important theme I can’t miss in this review though. The failure of the justice system.

Once again, spoiler alert. The police never catch Dwitght and they lost interest in the case extremely fast.

Ethan and Grace’s grief will last a lifetime, but understandably, the bulk of their mixed emotions (the early stages of grief) will be during the first few years of their loss. The cops had absolutely no empathy, outwardly, to this struggle. They treat Ethan like some annoying guy calling about his neighbor’s dog peeing on his lawn.

Almost immediately they tell Ethan that this will be hard to solve. They seem to have given up the chase before even starting. A key piece of information is given to them at the scene, and they ignore it. Ethan says he is sure he heard the driver scream something like “Sam”, and the cop doesn’t even write down that detail. A detail which would have solved the crime if they matched up similar cars from the incident to families with someone named Sam.

Dwight is also feeling extremely guilty and starts to do things like leave the damaged car out in the open, calling the family and hanging up, and even visiting the family home at night to see them inside. My point is that if the cops had tried more, cared more, or even simply kept the investigation open a little longer: Dwight would’ve easily been caught.

They make it a point to say that the cops have a lot on their plate, which is understandable, but that’s just a piece of the failure of the justice system. Not an excuse. And this is why Ethan ends up taking justice into his own hands.

The case was so easy to solve, Ethan figured it out himself with the help of the 10 year old boy, Sam.

The ending was bittersweet, as I said, because Ethan almost incriminates himself by taking Dwight out to a campsite and pointing a gun at his head. Though ultimately, he doesn’t go throught with the murder or forced confession.

That’s what made the ending sweet. He decided not to go through with his plan because he valued Sam’s life over his own revenge.

It shows just how much Ethan values being a father and husband. If he killed Dwight, he would not only be taking Sam’s father from him, but he himself would be taken from Emma and Grace. Though he never outright says that, I feel that it’s between the lines during his final breakdown and his last words to Dwight. He even told Dwight not to turn himself in and imagined Dwight’s son standing cold and alone in his house. Then he says “Go back to your son.”

This part shows how amazing Ethan’s love for Josh is and how much he values fatherhood. Sam reminded him of Josh, and in those final moments Ethan realized bringing Dwight to justice wouldn’t bring Josh back. He would rather Sam have the life that Josh never would.

Not only that, but Ethan finally got to the acceptance stage in his grief cycle. And so did Grace and Emma. It took a lot of time, but instead of pushing each other away they learned to embrace each other. For the first time since Josh’s death, they had a family meal together (before this scene in the woods). I imagine Ethan thought of that before leaving Dwight.

That’s Reservation Road. A story of loss, grief, guilt, and injustice.

Overall I’d say this book gets a…

*Drum roll please* 

Highly recommended for those who like fiction and tearjerker stories.

If you’re looking for something to draw your attention, make you cry, and leave you feeling a little hurt: this ones for you.

Your friendly writer,

Leeann

Next Time: I’m listening to the audiobook for IT by Stephen King and reading The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett. Let’s see which one gets finished first!

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