Monday, April 20, 2015

The Turnaround

by George Pelecanos
294 pgs

The Turnaround begins with an incident that takes place in Washington D.C. in 1972. The incident involved six teenage boys--three white and three black--and forever altered the course of their lives.

The three white boys were stoned and driving around the streets of D.C. late one night when the driver decides to drive through a black neighborhood and yell a racial slur at three black boys hanging out on the side of the road. As they speed away laughing, they soon learn that the road they're on is a dead end, and that they'll have to turn around and pass those same boys again in order to leave. When all is said and done, one of the boys is able to jump out of the car and escape, the driver is shot and killed, and Alex Pappas, who had been sitting in the back of the car and hadn't said anything as they initially drove past the boys, is brutally beaten and left with a facial disfigurement that he'll carry with him the rest of his life.

The black teenagers are two brothers: Raymond and James Monroe, and Charles Baker. Charles, who was the one who brutally beat Alex, ends up spending a year in prison, while James is convicted of murder and is locked up for many years. Raymond is never charged with anything.

Part two of the story takes place 35 years later. Alex and Andrew have had no contact with each other since the events of that night, but now in their fifties, they share much in common. Alex ended up taking over running his father's Greek diner. He had a son that was killed in the war in Iraq and he now makes regular donations of pies and other sweets from his diner to the injured veterans at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Andrew is now a physical therapist at Walter Reed who one day recognizes Alex when they bump into each other during one of Alex's deliveries.

Pelecanos is a great storyteller, and his strength is in his characters and his ability to show how one event in the lives of his characters can cast a very long shadow over the rest of their lives. Most of his books are part of a group of three or four books that follow a group of characters through their lives. But The Turnaround is a stand-alone book, and therefore a great "gateway" book for the uninitiated to discover this fantastic author.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

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