Welcome to Imprint Friday and today's featured imprint: Harper Perennial. Stop by each week to be introduced to a must-read title from one of my favorite imprints. I know you'll be adding many of these books to your wish list.
Nick Arvin's new novel The Reconstructionist is about a man obsessed with car accidents and with his past. In fact, Ellis Barstow is an automotive forensic engineer whose half-brother died in an accident and whose boss is married to a women who used to date his dead brother. I'll tell you a bit more in a second, but first, read the publisher's summary:
One instant can change an entire lifetime.Ellis Barstow's tangled life is difficult to sort out. Why would he choose a career in analyzing vehicular accidents, when they serve only to remind him of one of the tragic, defining moments of his life? One attraction, of course, is that his boss and mentor, Boggs, is married to Heather. And Heather has fascinated Ellis since he was thirteen years old. But is Heather a bridge to healing or the ax that rips his world apart?
As a boy, Ellis Barstow heard the sound of the collision that killed Christopher, his older half brother—an accident that would haunt him for years. A decade later, searching for purpose after college, Ellis takes a job as a forensic reconstructionist, investigating and re-creating the details of fatal car accidents—under the guidance of the irascible John Boggs, who married Christopher's girlfriend. Ellis takes naturally to the work, fascinated by the task of trying to find reason, and justice, within the seemingly random chaos of smashed glass and broken lives. But Ellis is harboring secrets of his own—not only his memory of the car crash that killed his brother but also his feelings for Boggs's wife, Heather, which soon lead to a full-blown affair. And when Boggs inexplicably disappears, Ellis sets out to find him . . . and to try to make sense of the crash site his own life has become.
Raising a host of universal questions—Can science ever explain matters of the heart? Can we ever escape the gravitational pull of the past?—Nick Arvin's novel is at once deeply moving and compulsively readable.
Although Ellis's job is to make sense of accidents, explaining them in minute scientific detail, he has less success understanding the pivotal accidental moments in his own life. Perhaps he is looking at things from the wrong angle. As Boggs is fond of saying:
"I don't really know what an accident is." . . .And so what in the lives of Ellis, Boggs, and Heather is the result of chance?
"Everything . . . depends on the contingent and the adventitious . . . and if some people make some decisions that result in the physical interference of one vehicle with another in an intersection, and that can be called an accident, then what can't be called an accident? Where my footsteps fall, where I place my hands, where I sit, where I stand, how I appear in the world, who I speak to, the kind of work I do, who I befriend, who I fall in love with?" Boggs pouted. "Accident?"
Arvin's prose is easy to read, drawing you in and teasing you with hints of the possible ending. You might work it all out before the last page, but I couldn't. The Reconstructionist starts out strong as a character-driven novel. After one of the key scenes about halfway through the novel, however, Ellis and Boggs set out on a chase / tour of crash sites they have worked on together. At this point the novel changes personality and the knotty connections among the men, Heather, the accidents, and the past become more complicated.
I was buckled in for the whole ride, questioning the meaning of fate, coincidence, and memory right along with Ellis. For readers who stay onboard, Arvin leaves them with plenty to discuss and think about.
Harper Perennial is a featured imprint on Beth Fish Reads. For information about the imprint, please read Erica Barmash's welcome note posted here on June 18, 2010. I encourage you to add your reviews of Harper Perennial books to the review link-up page; it's a great way to discover Good Books for Cool People. And don't miss the The Olive Reader, the Harper Perennial blog.