Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Serious Reservations

Yes, I read the movie tie in version.

Reservation Road
John Burnham Schwartz

This started off rather well. Cue happy family at a lovely outdoor concert. On the way home, family is shattered as eldest child is killed by hit and run driver. The rest of the book will explore the parties dealing with grief and guilt. If you don’t like sad, depressing stories, this is not the book for you. I do like sad, depressing stories, so I kept reading.

I’ve had family members lose children, and it completely and totally sucks. I have heard, and I can believe that it’s true, that as a parent, nothing is worse than losing a child. Not only do you have the grief, but it subverts the “natural” order of things. People do not count on outliving their children. Generally, Reservation Road handles this theme convincingly. This is the grieving father speaking:

“It was not just the moment that paralyzed. But the vast circumference of time ahead; I could imagine no way of filling this picture, or keeping away the silence that lay behind it.”

Unfortunately, there are some major flaws that kept me from liking this. The first problem was the completely unconvincing police officers. They are investigating a boy’s death, but it seems that they have never dealt with a grieving victim’s family. Now, I do not believe that police officers are perfect (by any means) but I do not think that they’d take it personally when a father, who just saw his ten year old son get mowed down by a car, yells at them.

The most problematic flaw was the pervasive male gaze. The book is told from three alternating perspectives: Grace & Ethan Learner’s (the dead boy’s parents) and Dwight Arno, the driver.  Ethan and Dwight’s chapters are told in first person. Because, you know, they are doing stuff. They are the men. They are destined to confront one another. In contrast, Grace’s chapters are told in the third person. Because we’ll just watch her mope around and be sad. She’s not actually going to do anything interesting or important.

Women get looked at a lot in this book. Dwight is the worse offender, but Ethan is certainly not innocent. He defends himself: “I looked; I’m not dead.” It’s the natural state of all men, apparently, to look at breasts, not matter the circumstances. Barf.

Dwight, inevitably, becomes enchanted with Grace Learner. Of course, not  before he’s gross to his ex-wife, Ruth. She wants to talk to him about something important, and he just wants to tell her that her “figure is a fine as it ever was.”

Women are there to be passive, to be looked at, to be desired. The only exception is Jean Olson, a colleague of Ethan’s. Based on how the book was progressing up until she was introduced, I thought for sure she was going to be another example of same character. But no! There’s a twist – she’s a lesbian! (This is handled sooooo awkwardly.) She’s still there solely to offer support to Ethan, though.

Grace and Ruth both seem to possess glimpses of extrasensory perception. They both seem to know more than they let on, but they do absolutely nothing with that information. They both have their reasons, but I would have liked to see some action from either of them.  In fact, after I finished the book, I imagined a scene where Grace gets justifiably pissed off and reacts to the crappy resolution that Schwartz imagined. 

Now that, I would enjoy reading.


Anonymous said...

Oh dear. I watched the movie and thought it okay. Now, the woman talking in the third person would also bug me since she is the only character doing that. I think if male authors are not comfortable with telling a female's perspective, then they should refrain from doing that. Also, gosh, I'm tired of the standard male character thing. Male authors need to give us diverse male characters. Enough ranting. You have a nice blog.

MJ said...

It seems like the movie is cast rather well. I think the movie could potentially ignore a lot of the problems with the book. It may be one of the cases where the movie is better!
And I rant here plenty, so you're welcome to join in :-)

Amy said...

Oh man this book sounds horrible! Based on your description, I can totally understand your reaction to it. I'll make sure to avoid this one. Thanks for posting!

MJ said...

I mean, the story itself wasn't that bad. It really was all in how it was handled.