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Northwest Corner
Discussion Guide

The New York Times Book Review called Reservation Road "a triumph," and the novel was acclaimed everywhere. Now, in a brilliant literary performance by one of our most compelling and compassionate writers, John Burnham Schwartz reintroduces those unforgettable characters in a superb new work of fiction that magnificently stands on its own. Northwest Corner is a riveting story about the complex, fierce, ultimately inspiring resilience of families in the face of life's most difficult and unexpected challenges.

Twelve years after a tragic accident and a cover-up that led to prison time, Dwight Arno, now fifty, is a man who has started over without exactly moving on. Living alone in California, haunted yet keeping his head down, Dwight manages a sporting goods store and dates a woman to whom he hasn't revealed the truth about his past. Until an unexpected arrival throws his carefully neutralized life into turmoil and exposes all that he's hidden—and dares him to ask for, and perhaps earn, forgiveness from those he has damaged, including himself.

Sam, Dwight's estranged college-age son, has shown up without warning, fleeing a devastating incident in his own life. In its way, Sam's sense of guilt is as crushing as his father's. As the two men are forced by unfolding events to confront their similar natures and their half-buried hopes for connection, they also must search for redemption and love. In turn, they dramatically transform the lives of the women around them: the ex-wives, mothers, and lovers they have turned to in their desperate attempts to somehow rewrite, outrun, or eradicate the past.

Told in the resonant voices of everyday people gripped in the emotional riptide of lived life, Northwest Corner is at once tough and heartlifting, an urgent, powerful story about family bonds that can never be broken and the wayward roads that lead us back to those we love.

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Featured in O MAGAZINE (August 2011)
(click on image to download PDF)

"[Schwartz is] exceptional at describing the chemistry of desire, creating emotional tension, and making his characters feel more like flesh and blood than fictional constructs. Imaginative and taut, Schwartz's writing is seamless and infinitely inspired."

"The characters [in Northwest Corner] are damaged souls capable of damaging others. But readers will grow to care deeply about whether and how their lives can be redeemed. Stark and deeply affecting."

"What makes this book work so well is that for all of Dwight [Arno]'s failings— perhaps because of them—we're squarely on his team. He's terrifically flawed... In that rich tradition of the defective yet captivating male protagonist, Dwight, like Frank Bascombe and Peter Jernigan and Frederick Exley before him, wins our faith... While this isn't the first story about the indestructible bonds of family, it's an especially nuanced and moving one."

"With vivid prose and boundless empathy, Schwartz digs deep into the psyches of his all-too-flawed characters... The power of Northwest Corner, as its geographical center moves from Connecticut to California and back again, is in the way it asks the hardest questions of human experience with subtle grace... One of the most emotionally commanding novels of the year."
   —NPR (read the full review)

"Poetic, introspective, evocative... Northwest Corner ranks up there as one of the most gut-wrenching books I've ever read. In Schwartz's hands, the narrative unfolds delicately, each chapter a puzzle piece that fits seamlessly into the whole... Exhilarating."

"A bruised beauty."

"Told through alternating voices in meticulously wrought, uncluttered prose, Schwartz has hammered out a riveting sequel [to Reservation Road], one that both moves and is moving... Northwest Corner is a thoughtful and deeply rewarding story about family and redemption..."

"In Dwight [Arno], Schwartz has created a character who has acquired enough hard-won personal honesty that it feels like almost a moral imperative to root for him... Northwest Corner is a compelling tale of a family—not just broken, but seemingly pulverized by violence—finding their way back together again."

"Schwartz [writes] with a quiet artfulness, giving each character a unique and uniquely moving voice embedded within a consistently interesting and graceful prose—and creating a structure and style that neatly reflect the story they frame, of piecing together a whole life that is at once the sum of its parts and much more."
   —STAR TRIBUNE, Twin Cities

"Northwest Corner demands to be read in one sitting,... Mr. Schwartz is capable of beautifully poetic prose,... [and] the novel is written with an absolute honesty that comes only with experience. It examines tragedy, but also deals with the day to day struggle of family life: a father's insensitivity, a mother's growing loneliness, and a son's bid to stand alone... an intuitive, well-wrought novel that never forfeits the reader's attention for a second."

"Written in Schwartz's sparse, affecting style, it is a work that will move even those readers who have not read his earlier work."

"John Burnham Schwartz is an American novelist willing to tackle big themes... [He] is masterful in his portrait of an American family—quietly suffering behind their white picket fence—and his characters are solidly of this earth. They bleed both metaphorically and literally. We dip in and out of their heads and are left wistful, wishing to spend more time with their flawed natures. What do they want? Forgiveness, redemption, and love."

"The literary equivalent of a painting by Edward Hopper."

"This is a very good novel."

"A compelling family story in changing Times."

"This novel is about the values of home, and the irreplaceable nature of community. It reminds me of the work of Marilynne Robinson, sharing that writer's existential profundity. John Burnham Schwartz has truly written a great American novel."

"Reservation Road, Schwartz's most famous novel, was a masterclass in Americana. This is his belated follow-up and just as good."

"I was enthralled by Northwest Corner, reluctant to tear myself away even for a moment from a tale so delicately assembled, so well paced. For me Schwartz evokes Steinbeck and Updike in that magical ability to weave out of a regional story of family, a broader chronicle of America. I had the sense on every page of a writer whose abilities are at their peak, the parts of this tale interlocking just so, and yet being anything but predictable as Schwartz defines the nature of atonement, the many shades of love and the face of redemption. Truly a great American novel."

"The masterful Northwest Corner is that finest of things—a moral novel about mortal events."

"Families may just exist to witness each others' disappointments, and the tribes in John Burnham Schwartz's riveting, poetic new novel have plenty to gawk and wonder at. This is the first set of characters I've come across in years to compel attention not just with outside action, of which there's plenty, but with psychological depths that reward study. It's rife with tragedies and redemptions, a wise book without being wise-assed, and you should read it."

"It's a remarkable and overwhelming novel, the best you've ever written. The writing is exquisite, but not in that look-at-me way that I hate. It abets the characters, but in the most heartstopping and illuminating way. In fact, one amazing aspect of the book for someone who pursues the trade herself is that in the ways that count, the author is entirely absent. It never feels as though any scene is gerrybuilt to carry plot; they are all just what happens. The characters never seem tugged into place by a deus ex machina; this is how they behave. It all feels completely natural and inevitable. Real life, only more so. And once again you make so credible and terrible one central fact of the human condition, that bad, bad things happen and there is fault to be assigned, but not clearly and not really. The other thing that I consider a triumph is that whether you have read Reservation Road makes no difference. The two books are like identical twins: it's fascinating to have them side by side, but each stands alone. I don't know what more to say. I'm awestruck."
   —ANNA QUINDLEN (from a personal email)

"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."
   —COLLOQUIUM, literary blog

"This is a gripping novel that will capture the interest of the reader and hold them in it's sway until the very end. Schwartz shifts the point of view back and forth between all the characters of the book, from father to son, male to female and back again, taking the reader on a very fast paced journey through an emotional landscape that readers will fall in love with."
   —DEB'S BOOK BAG, literary blog

"This is an incredible novel, exquisitely written. Schwartz is a gifted, poetic writer with a keen sharp insight into human character. There are observations throughout the novel that are brilliant gems of perfect cut and clarity. Very Highly Recommended—one of the best."
   —SHE TREADS SOFTLY, literary blog

"Northwest Corner by John Burnham Schwartz is a brilliantly crafted novel about families and their ability to survive in spite of adversity and challenges... A tale about secrets, truth, love, and redemption... Schwartz, in a deliberate and beautiful style, captivates the reader's attention with suspense and empathy for each of these flawed and damaged characters and while Northwest Corner follows on from Schwartz's novel Reservation Road where his characters first come to life, his latest work is perfect as a stand alone novel. With so many familial emotions and experiences in the Arno and Lerner families, there exists an abundance of topics for book discussion groups and I highly recommend Northwest Corner to all readers."
   —RUNDPINNE, literary blog

"Northwest Corner is a literary place you must visit, an exploration of the rough terrain of the human experience."

"Northwest Corner shines in the large shadow cast by Burnham's earlier works. It absolutely shines... I highly recommend this to anyone that enjoys a well-written, character driven novel with a unique narrative style."
   —THE WELL-READ WIFE, literary blog