Picks and Pans Review: Reservation Road

updated 09/21/1998 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/21/1998 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by John Burnham Schwartz

College professor Ethan Learner is driving his wife and kids home from a summer concert when he stops at a gas station so his young daughter can use the lavatory. "Move away from the road, Josh," he tells his 10-year-old son. But then an ordinary Connecticut evening turns into a nightmare: A speeding car hits the boy, killing him instantly, and disappears. A standard hit-and-run accident would hardly seem the stuff of great fiction. But from the first sentence, Schwartz—author of the exceptional 1989 novel Bicycle Days—has you as hooked as a gawker at an accident scene. You can't look away, and then you're drawn deeper and deeper into the lives that converged in that one horrific moment on Reservation Road.

In bone-dry prose, Schwartz skillfully employs shifting perspectives and captures not just the pain and guilt of the survivors but the bizarre way that, even after heart-shattering tragedy, life has a troubling way of going on. (Knopf, $24)

Bottom Line: Tense novel of family tragedy has top-notch stamped all over it

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