(Reviewed by Mary Whipple MAY 1, 2006)
"[Casey] did not rethink that evening; he did not look deeply into himself to ask what he should have done differently. There were no answers there, no answers anywhere. The way to run the restaurant was spelled out in the handbook, and a crisis that was not addressed by the headquarters could not be put on his shoulders."
Focusing on the aftermath of a vicious fight which left a Pennsylvania prep school senior brain-damaged, with the capacity of a four-year-old, author Brian Shawver recreates the events surrounding a fight between townies from East Breed's Township and local preppies from St. Brendan's. The night-time fight, the second one to have occurred within two weeks, takes place in the parking lot behind O'Ruddy's, a small, franchised restaurant run by Casey Fielder, a manager who has always operated the restaurant according to the handbook. As Fielder and one of his waitresses watch some of the combatants leave in their cars, fervently hoping the remaining four boys will also leave, one boy picks up a heavy metal rod and brings it down on the head of Colin Chase, maiming him forever.
Everyone even peripherally involved with the participants and the fight is dramatically affected by the results, and as Shawver takes the reader into the minds of the various characters in the aftermath of the fight, the reader sees them considering their own culpability (and sometimes rejecting it), making excuses, and replaying and second-guessing the events. At the same time, accusations are flying, recriminations are threatened, and attempts are being made to make someone pay. In the aftermath of the fight, virtually everyone must look within for answers, but no one has the whole story.
Central to the action is Casey Fielder, the manager, who did not call the police when the fight started. Casey's lack of action is soon seen in a more complex and sympathetic context, since the restaurant's owners have warned Casey about the possible loss of insurance because of the previous fight and the potential closure of the restaurant. Jenny, Casey's waitress, told him during the fight that the phone was out of order, but she has failed to confirm this for the police. Casey's girlfriend Rachel, a high school history teacher, and most other people in the town hold Casey responsible for the outcome.
But Casey is not the only person involved, and as he determines to find out exactly why this fight took place on this particular night, he begins his investigation into the background of the victim, Colin Chase, and into the running feud between the preppies and the townies, a situation far more complicated than one might have guessed.
Alternating the point of view between Casey and that of the victim's parents, especially Lea Chase, Colin's mother, Shawver shows the human impulse to connect with the participants and to discover the truth—Casey through meeting with Brady Benson, one of the fight participants from the Township, whom he believes has much more information than he has been willing to reveal, and Lea through her search of the effects of her long-estranged son and her desire to learn about the life he had always refused to share with her and his father. Gradually, she discovers that Colin may not be as much a victim as some people think him to be, and that many Township people have ample reason to dislike him.
Shawver's pitch-perfect dialogue reveals the attitudes and expectations of his characters, at the same time that his fast-paced prose style highlights their impulsive actions and immaturity. Showing that all events are far more involved than they may appear to be, he depicts the random actions during the fight, then questions the randomness itself. With feeling and high drama, he shows the human reactions of friends and parents to the permanent brain damage of a seventeen-year-old student, while avoiding sentimentality and melodrama. Class issues between the local residents of this former mining town and the preppie families who live protected from ugliness play a part in the outcome, and Shawver differentiates between their attitudes towards blame and liability.
A novel which depends on the developing characters, rather than on non-stop action, for its drama, Aftermath looks at the tragic outcome of a fight between teenagers in a parking lot, then takes a long view to show how and why that fight took place. But in doing all this, Shawver also shows in his conclusion that one can never know all the answers for sure--that reality may always be far different from one's expectations. An intriguing novel with some unique outcomes.
- Amazon readers rating: from 9 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from Aftermath at Nan A. Talese
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
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About the Author:
Brian Shawver grew up in Prairie Village, Kansas. He received his B.A. from the University of Kansas and his M.F.A. from the Iowa Writers' Workshop. He teaches creative writing at Missouri State University.