Review: ‘The Reconstructionist’ by Nick Arvin

by Kim on April 13, 2012 · 9 comments

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Title: The Reconstructioninst
Author: Nick Arvin
Genre: Fiction
Year: 2012
Acquired: From the publisher for review consideration
Rating: ★★★★☆

One Sentence Summary: Accident reconstructionist Nick Arvin uses science to solve the mysteries of physics at accident sites, and, eventually, has to grapple with the accident that sent his life down this path.

One Sentence Review: Nick Arvin’s characters are smart, funny, and human, even when the situations they find themselves in threaten to veer entirely into chaos.

Why I Read It: I’ve been consistently impressed with the recent fiction from Harper Perennial (the publisher of one of last year’s favorites, Domestic Violets by Matthew Norman). I also love learning about forensics, so this seemed like a book that would be right up my alley.


Long Review:As a kid, Ellis Barstow was fascinated by car accidents. From his childhood home, he and his older brother Christoper learned to hear accidents at a corner just behind their backyard. But when Christopher is killed in an accident at that very corner, Ellis finds himself (predictably) haunted by the incident. Years later, trying to find a purpose for his life after college, Ellis is drawn to a career as a forensic reconstructionist undre the guidance of his off-beat mentor, John Boggs. Soon, the accident that haunts Ellis, along with his deep feelings for Boggs wife, Heather, start to pull apart Ellis’ carefully constructed life.

On the whole, I really, really enjoyed Nick Arvin’s The Reconstructionist. The characters, both large and small, are the sorts of people you want to read more about, either because you sympathize with them (Ellis) or want to try and figure them out (Boggs). The plot was constantly twisting in ways that I didn’t see coming, but that also mostly felt probable and even likely. There were some times through the middle of the book when it seemed like things could veer totally out of control, but I felt like Arvin brought them back convincingly enough that I wasn’t bothered.

Arvin, who previously worked as a forensic reconstructionist, gets the science in the book exactly right — not too complicated, but also not too simplified to the point that it feels inauthentic. From the descriptions, it’s clear why Ellis finds comfort and pride in doing this work, no matter how grisly it can occasionally be. I may have loved those sections even more than the character-heavy moments, but just barely. I’m a total nerd like that.

What probably made the book though was the way Arvin was able to use this story to ask (and not always answer) some big questions about love and life. How do we survive accidents, the moments in life where everything turns in a second? Can we use logic and science to explain the world? Or, as Boggs puts it, “The instant when everything is altered: the accident, the collision, the rollover … What if that’s life?” Good questions.

Other Reviews: book’d out | Beth Fish Reads | a home between pages |

If you have reviewed this book, please leave a link to the review in the comments and I will add your review to the main post. All I ask is for you to do the same to mine — thanks!

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