This is a novel that begins with a fatal school bus accident in Sam Dent, a small town in upstate New York. The circumstances leading up to the accident appear in the first chapter, whose narrator is the bus driver Dolores Driscoll. The remaining chapters have three different narrators: Billy Ansel, who lost a son and daughter and now drinks himself into a less painful state; Mitchell Stephens, a lawyer from New York City who appears days after the accident, fueled by his belief that there is no such thing as an accident, himself the grieving father of a drug-addicted daughter; Nichole Burnell, a teenage survivor of the crash, now a parapalegic. Each presents a different view because of the unique history each brought to the tragedy.


This is a superb novel that begs to be used in any number of classes. The characters Banks chooses to tell the stories of their lives leading up to the crash and in the months following it are remarkably different, providing contrasting angles and meanings on the same event. The simple, straightforward way Dolores Driscoll describes the day of the accident as she routinely picked up each of "her" children, or Bill Ansel's terse, pain-riddled prose ("The ony way I could go on living was to believe that I was not living"), are utterly authentic and evocative.

In choosing the voice of Nichole Burnell, Banks is also able to portray how family secrets like incest emerge in the midst of tragedy in the most unexpected ways; or with the character Mitchell Stephens, so lawyerly and vulnerable at the same time, illuminating an even fuller response to parental grief as he learns of his own "lost" daughter's drug-addicted HIV-positive status.

As these stories intersect with each other and weave together other accounts of how the families coped with this senseless tragedy, Banks helps readers explore the complexities of grief, the various struggles to make meaning of something so "wickedly unnatural," and the human capacity for forgiveness and hope. This book would be particularly effective to illustrate narrative voice.


First published in 1991 by HarperCollins. Portions of the novel appeared in North American Review and Ontario Review.



Place Published

New York



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