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


  1. I feel as if I was looking over your shoulder as you read what sounds like Pelecanos treatise for troubled young men.

    As a book tracker versus a skilled reviewer like yourself I'd like to connect with you and learn more.

  2. I've been waiting for you to read it to see if your thoughts were the same as mine. We pretty much gave it the same rating but I think I'm just about done with Pelecanos. I'm so sick of all his music and sports references. After awhile, it's like "enough is enough". I don't need to know what song was playing every time he enters a store or drives in a car or is listening to background music in the diner. And I further don't need to know who made the three pointer or who won what series. I get it....he's a music and sports aficionado and these two subjects are obviously his security blankets when writing his books.

    What I'm waiting for is for Pelecanos to write "the book"....the one he owes all of his loyal fans. Forget about the music references and the sports references and just write the story we all know you can write....or perhaps he can't.

    Pelecanos clearly writes for men and definitely does not write for women. He's a guys' guy and I should probably just accept that I'm not part of the club.

  3. Writeonbro, I'm really flattered by your comment and I sincerely appreciate that...but I think you're overrating me. :-)

  4. Reader23, I haven't read so much Pelecanos that his music and sports references get on my nerves...at least for now. But I can easily understand why you feel that way because he does it much more than other male writers who make similar references. My main complaint with the book is its fairy tale ending...just too pat to suit me.

    As for him being "a guy's guy," I'm not so sure...he seems a bit soft just judging him on this one novel...lots of his "feminine side" in evidence, IMO. :-)

  5. Sam -- I've read at least 10 Pelecanos' novels so that's where I'm coming from when I make those statements.

    As far as him being a guys' guy, I'm referring to all of the sports' references in every single one of his books....ad nauseum....that women couldn't care about.