Review: The Reconstructionist by Nick Arvin


Title: The Reconstructionist

Author: Nick Arvin

Published:  Harper Perrenial March 2012

Synopsis: At a loose end after college, Ellis Barstow drifts back to his home town and a strange profession: reconstructing fatal traffic accidents. He seems to take to the work immediately , and forms a bond with his boss and mentor, John Boggs, an intriguing character of few but telling words.  Yet Ellis is harbouring a secret. He was drawn to the reconstructionist’s grisly world by the fatal crash that killed his half-brother Christopher and that still haunts him; in fact his life has been shaped by car accidents. Boggs, in his exacting way, would argue that ‘accident’ is not the right word, that if two cars meeting at an intersection can be called an accident then anything can – where we live, what we do, even who we fall in love with. For Ellis these things are certainly no accident. And he harbours a second, more dangerous secret, one that threatens to blow apart the men’s lives and which, as the story’s quiet momentum builds, leads to a desperate race towards confrontation, reconciliation and survival

Status: Read from February 27 to 29, 2012 — I own a copy {Courtesy HarperCollins/NetGalley}

My Thoughts:

Since I find the television show ‘Crash Investigation Unit’ fascinating, I was intrigued by the premise of The Reconstructionist. Reconstructing the cause of an accident is not too difficult, with hindsight. Clues litter the road’s surface, vehicles bear scars, bodies too, and precise measurements can create a neat, bloodless computer simulation that shows exactly what went wrong. Ellis Barstow works as a forensic reconstructionist, determining the sequence of events that end with a vehicular fatality so that lawyers can apportion blame. Looking back, Ellis wonders at which point his own inexorable slide towards a catastrophic impact began, perhaps the first time he saw her Lego masterpiece on the coffee table, or that night at the park, swinging into the darkness, or on the afternoon his half brother died in a fiery collision in the intersection behind their house. “Everything,” Boggs would say, “depends on the contingent and the adventitious.”

I particularly enjoyed the first half of The Reconstructionist, I was immediately drawn into the story of Ellis, Heather and Boggs, an awkward triangle, haunted by Ellis’s half brother, Chris. Ellis, we learn, works with Boggs as an accident investigator, having joined him after after an introduction of sorts by Heather. Heather was the object of Ellis’s teenage crush and his half-brother’s girlfriend, but now, years later, is married to Boggs. Almost immediately you know that it is likely things will go wrong for the protagonists, Heather and Boggs are unhappy and Ellis finds his old feelings for Heather rise to the surface. Slowly, the three lose control of their emotions and the collision of secrets, grief and love results in cataclysmic damage.
I was fascinated by the details the Ellis and Boggs share of the accidents they are investigating. Arvin strikes a skilled balance between technical detail and visual description so that you almost feel you are a witness to the drunk who over corrected when startled by wild pig carcasses in the road and slammed into a tree, or the good Samaritan pinned between a car and the grill of a truck. It can be a little disturbing at times but Arvin makes great use of gallows humour and as the accidents are reverse engineered, I couldn’t help but be intrigued by the analysis.
However I was disappointed by the second half of the book that seems to wander off into an overly long, surreal game of cat and mouse culminating in an unresolved existentialist argument. The Reconstructionist is a character driven novel but for me, when the characters lose the plot, both figuratively and literally, I lose interest.

The Reconstructionist is a wonderfully interesting novel, up to a point. I am sure more literary minded readers will find great meaning in the rather bizarre twist the book takes towards the end but those readers, like me, who prefer something more grounded may find themselves let down. So I am torn and on this one you are going to have to make your own mind up.

Available to Purchase

@Amazon I @BookDepository


7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Judith
    Mar 03, 2012 @ 08:08:58

    I’m expecting a review copy of this book and now I’m even more curious to see what it will be like. I’ll let you know, it’s on my reading list for this month.



    • shelleyrae @ Book'd Out
      Mar 04, 2012 @ 04:53:03

      I will be keen to see what you think Judith since your tastes are a little more literary than mine are!



  2. Sue Gerth
    Mar 03, 2012 @ 09:30:40

    Hmm…this sounds interesting. Thanks for the review! Add that to my list 😉



  3. The Australian Bookshelf
    Mar 04, 2012 @ 14:13:16

    It’s a shame this one took a strange turn and it was less engaging in the second half of the book. Think i will give a book about car accidents a miss though… don’t really have the stomach for it- can’t even watch the tv show!



  4. Parrish
    Mar 05, 2012 @ 07:39:52

    loving the premise of this and existential arguments always appeal.



  5. Kate Rizzetti
    Mar 05, 2012 @ 17:46:58

    I’m not a fan of stories that end with a question mark in the form of an author’s raised eyebrow. I am a literary reader but to be honest these kind of endings leave me frustrated – so I don’t think I’ll bother with this one. Thanks for the honest appraisal.



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