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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Turnaround

The Turnaround, set deep in the heart of Washington D.C., is the story of six teenage boys, three of them white and three of them black, who have their lives forever changed on what should be just another day in the summer of 1972. Alex Pappas knows that he and his two friends, Billy Cachoris and Pete Whitten, have no business going into a black neighborhood looking for trouble but he cannot force himself to say the words that might stop Billy from driving them there.

After the three very briefly confront three black boys roughly their own age, Billy races them away in his father’s car only to find a turnaround barrier at the end of the street from which he had planned to escape the area. Still hoping to get away cleanly, Billy turns the car around but finds his only escape route blocked by the three neighborhood boys he is fleeing. In just a matter of seconds, one of the three white boys is shot dead and another is badly beaten and scarred for life. Two of the young black men are sentenced to long prison sentences a few weeks later and Alex Pappas begins the long process of putting his life back together.

Flash forward to 2007 and Alex is running the same family diner he worked in as a boy. He is a happily married man with one surviving son but is still deeply grieving the recent loss of his other son in Iraq. Every time he looks in a mirror Alex is reminded of “the incident,” as he calls it, so when a chance encounter at Walter Reed Hospital leads to contact with one of the black men involved in it, Alex agrees to meet with him to discuss their shared past.

The Turnaround is a novel about redemption and second chances, a character-driven story about six young men who randomly cross paths just long enough to make the biggest mistake of all their young lives. One of them paid the ultimate price and did not survive that day, two went to prison, and three of them had to pick up the emotional pieces and get on with their lives as best they could. Over all, The Turnaround is an inspirational story about personal loyalty, family ties, friendship and the mellowness and peace that sometimes come with age.

The novel does verge on over sentimentality at times, especially as regards its improbable sugar-sweet ending, but the level of brutality and violence exhibited by some characters saves it from reading more like a fairy tale than a crime thriller. As usual, Pelecanos has filled his novel with memorable characters, not the least of which is the city of Washington D.C. itself. Reading a George Pelecanos novel is almost like walking the streets of Washington D.C. at night – not, having now read Pelecanos on several occasions, something I am ever likely to do again.

Rated at: 3.5
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