Aftermath [NOOK Book]

Overview

"Aftermath is set in East Breed's, Pennsylvania, a blue-collar town that simmers with barely concealed prejudices and unspoken rules. One Friday night in the parking lot of a chain restaurant, class tension erupts in a brutal fight between the priveleged boys from St. Brendan's and a group of kids from the local high school. Casey Fielder, the restaurant's manager, watches the melee but does nothing to stop it. When the fight ends, Colin Chase, a handsome, cocky student at St. Brendan's, is left severely brain-damaged." Brian Shawver portrays the ...
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Aftermath

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Overview

"Aftermath is set in East Breed's, Pennsylvania, a blue-collar town that simmers with barely concealed prejudices and unspoken rules. One Friday night in the parking lot of a chain restaurant, class tension erupts in a brutal fight between the priveleged boys from St. Brendan's and a group of kids from the local high school. Casey Fielder, the restaurant's manager, watches the melee but does nothing to stop it. When the fight ends, Colin Chase, a handsome, cocky student at St. Brendan's, is left severely brain-damaged." Brian Shawver portrays the lasting effects of one night. Casey, ostracized by his unforgivable behavior, loses his job and dedicates himself to investigating the causes of the fight, hoping that his discoveries will provide some justification for his failure to act. For Lea, Colin's mother, the incident ironically offers a way to reclaim the defiant, arrogant son she hardly knew and could barely love. Although she hopes that the guilty boy will be found and punished, Lea can't escape the feeling that Colin somehow brought the horror upon himself. As she looks for clues that will help her understand him, she discovers his apparent devotion to a young woman named Jenny, and she seizes on this relationship as the key that will finally allow her to love her son unconditionally.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
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Picture this. You're the manager of a restaurant franchise, and life is pretty good. But events taking place just beyond your restaurant's doors threaten your contented existence. More specifically, a group of teenage boys have begun to brawl in your parking lot, creating a paralyzing "Catch 22." For the boys assembled there not so long ago, and the welcome patrol car that broke up that rumble filed a report that was all too unwelcome at your corporate headquarters. What to do this time around? Call the police and risk a hassle at work? Or wait and hope the fight just fizzles out?

Such a moral conundrum sets the stage for Shawver's tense work of fiction, a gripping yet subtle tale that contains some biting insights into the simmering class divisions that lie beneath the surface of American life. What the restaurant manager does that night introduces him to an ugly side of life, and a cowardly side of himself. The outcome of his decision has far-reaching effects, but perhaps the most profoundly affected is the mother of one of the boys, who discovers things about her son and herself that no mother would want to learn. A grim picture of a society dotted with seemingly identical restaurants, Aftermath is a novel no less spellbinding than Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner, but it takes place right in our own hometowns. (Spring 2006 Selection))
Carolyn See
Aftermath is a good, solid, very readable novel, but it's even more valuable as social history -- a chronicle of our unforgiving reality, as opposed to our ephemeral dreams.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Shawver (The Cuban Prospect) takes a careful and polished but ponderous look at the aftereffects of a preventable tragedy. On a January night in blue-collar East Breed's, Pa., the manager of a restaurant watches as two gangs of teenage boys, townies from the public high school vs. privileged kids from the private Jesuit school, attack each other. Casey, the manager, does nothing-the last time there was a fight, the other manager got in trouble for calling the cops-and so the fight ends with wealthy Colin, a prep schooler, lying in a pool of blood. He survives, but he's severely brain damaged. Shawver explores the high price Casey pays for his passivity and also tracks the emotions of Lea, Colin's mother, who'd long felt that her cold, handsome son was "an extremely difficult boy to love." Shawver puts most of his energy into his exploration of moral issues, and though the story approaches life and death issues courageously, it folds under the weight of Lea's and Casey's excessive contemplation. The people in Shawver's story can be as bleak as the landscape-from the town's hedonistic teenagers to Casey's prickly girlfriend-and there seems no one to root for, though there are certainly people to mourn. (Feb.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
This compelling tale from Shawver (creative writing, Missouri State Univ.; The Cuban Project) focuses on the repercussions of an especially violent event in a small, blue-collar Pennsylvania town. One Friday night in the depths of winter, restaurant manager Casey Fielder witnesses a lengthy teenage brawl in O'Ruddy's icy parking lot but does nothing to stop it. The unthinkable occurs, an investigation ensues, and many lives are dramatically altered, particularly that of Colin Chase, an arrogant high school athlete left brain-damaged by the incident. As this suspenseful story moves forward, characters develop interesting nuances, and the reader searches for the truth about that fateful January evening. Several unsavory characters seem to careen off one another, while ethical and moral decisions reverberate. This moving study of class division and its tensions concludes only to reveal a variety of vile human behaviors. Often heartbreaking and sometimes shocking, it is an intense, harrowing look at not only an ugly crime but also its agonizing consequences. Recommended for most fiction collections.-Andrea Tarr, Corona P.L., CA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A violent brawl, a non-act of "gross negligence" and a family's grief are exhaustively analyzed in this affecting second novel from the Midwestern author of The Cuban Prospect (2003). In the working-class Pennsylvania backwater of Breed's Township, 30-ish Casey Fielder takes pride in his skillful management of O'Ruddy's Restaurant and gratifying relationship with his beautiful girlfriend Rachel-until a rumble in the restaurant's parking lot between high school "townies" and privileged preppies leaves handsome athlete Colin Chase irreparably brain-damaged. Assuming his wealthy employers' wish to avoid negative publicity (stemming from an earlier similar incident), Casey doesn't call the police. A firestorm of outrage ensues, and he loses his job and Rachel's respect, while plunging into a reckless campaign of subterfuge and lawbreaking to try to clear his name and assuage his guilt. Casey's downward path is juxtaposed (though it never intersects with) the emotional journey undertaken by Colin's mother Lea, who knows her only son (an egotistical seducer) is no angel; he has been, in fact, a "troubled, angry boy, yearning to fight and therefore skilled at enraging others." The full truth of why Colin was singled out by his attackers is both contrived and only partially revealed, as Shawver painstakingly strips away layers of denial and collusion, painting a depressingly realistic picture of "class warfare" and moral instability in everyday America. There are partial echoes of Jane Hamilton's A Map of the World and Rosellen Brown's Tender Mercies, but Shawver knows his territory and characters, and his workmanlike thoroughness gives this sad story heartwrenching intensity. Unfortunately, thenarrative becomes too often static and repetitious, as even minor incidents and conversational exchanges are tediously overanalyzed. Nevertheless, an encouraging improvement on Shawver's bland first novel and, one hopes, a harbinger of even better work to come. Agent: Michelle Tessler/Tessler Literary Agency
From the Publisher
"Engrossing. . . . A meticulous portrait of the way class works in America. . . . A chronicle of our unforgiving reality, as opposed to our ephemeral dreams."—The Washington Post Book World“Compelling. . . . A thoughtful and thought-provoking novel about class and class conflict in small-town Pennsylvania." —Courier-Post (New Jersey)“Powerful and moving. . . . An impressive story of loss and love." —The Kansas City Star
“A moving study of class division and its tension. . . . Often heartbreaking and sometimes shocking, Aftermath is an intense, harrowing look at not only an ugly crime but its agonizing consequences.” —Library Journal (starred review)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307279835
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/10/2007
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • File size: 345 KB

Meet the Author

Brian Shawver is the author of The Cuban Prospect. He received his B.A. from the University of Kansas and his M.F.A. from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He teaches creative writing at Missouri State University.
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Read an Excerpt

twoHe pretended not to understand at first, which was ridiculous, and probably underscored his own panic. Upon realizing this, he stood and said, “How many of them?” in as even a voice as he could manage. “I don’t know. A bunch. More than last time, I think.” She opened the door wider and started to back away, signaling that he should come with her.When he stepped out of the office, he felt himself entering a world of eyes. It was as if Jenny had pressed the record button of a video camera that would be focused on him for the rest of the night. He felt himself being observed, not just by Jenny but by the world in general, by headquarters and the Howards, by whatever customers might remain on the floor, by the cooks and the handful of servers now in the break room, wrapping silverware in napkins. Though few people would actually see him, he knew that his actions would eventually come under scrutiny. He felt the pull of the handbook -- how nice it would be to scamper back and thumb through its index. But he knew that nothing would be there; he had checked after the first incident. Nothing under “fights,” “brawls,” “conflicts,” “teenagers.” He would have no guidance tonight.The boys that Jenny referred to were the same age as she, some of them her schoolmates and the others from St. Brendan’s Academy. Exactly three weeks earlier, they had assembled in the O’Ruddy’s parking lot to brawl. The shift manager that night, Chad Richardson, had called the police almost as soon as he had noticed them congregating.But the restaurant sat on the south side of Arthur Avenue, in East Breed’s, where police response was sluggish. In this case, one ineffectual cruiser had arrived after fifteen minutes. In that span the twelve boys had punched themselves to exhaustion; some of them had fled by the time the cops arrived. The remaining boys had been lectured by a sergeant who was too cold to get out of the car and then had been sent on their way.All in all, a minor affair. Minimal media coverage -- mostly in the Breed’s Township Beacon, which was perpetually cursed with slow news days -- and no harm to person or property. Certainly nothing to make Casey panic now, nothing to make him think tonight would present him with something he could not handle.But there had been a police report. This was the damage. The policeman had given Richardson a copy, and he had passed it on to Casey. Casey had followed protocol by sending copies to the Howards and to the headquarters in Dallas. Under the terms of the franchise contract and the insurance papers, this had to be done. The handbook was unambiguous -- it was virtually the only directive in there about how to deal with police matters. But the Howards were displeased. The authority of the handbook was not absolute to them, they did not understand that their restaurant relied on its dogma.Casey now walked briskly through the kitchen, taking off his coat and scarf as he moved, and Jenny followed. The cooks, distracted by the radio’s salsa music and the elaborate process of shutting down the kitchen, paid no attention to him.Out on the floor, once the swinging doors shut out the noise of the kitchen behind him, the world seemed silent and softly lit. He scanned the restaurant quickly, out of habit, and noted only one occupied table, where a short, curly-headed couple in their fifties hunched over coffee cups.Tables five through nine, which lined the wall that overlooked the parking lot, had booth seating, and when Casey reached them he slid into the dark faux-leather booth of table eight, resting on his knees and holding himself erect as a prairie dog. This section had been closed down an hour earlier, the lights dimmed and the candles extinguished, so the tableau of the fluorescently lit parking lot presented itself clearly to those inside. The glass, a few inches in front of him, radiated cold, and he felt his chest absorb the frozen vapor. He thought about the exorbitant January heating bills, how he should have mentioned that in the memo.Jenny slid into the same booth, resting on her knees on the seat opposite him, also facing the window. He gave her a quick, surprised look, slightly annoyed by her presence. She reminded him of the video camera, of the unseen eyes that would watch his performance in retrospect.He closed his gaping mouth and tried to adopt a purposeful frown. He noticed that she smelled like the kitchen -- vegetable oil and lemon Fantastik. The front of her apron was smeared with mashed potatoes. Her nametag, askance, drifted on a breast that brushed against the window.“Who are they, Jenny? The same kids?”“More or less.” She sounded unconvinced. “It’s hard to say. They’re all bundled up. Maybe if I saw their faces.”They both could tell which kids represented which schools. The St. Brendan’s group held their position on the north side of the lot around a small number of SUVs, cars they had probably talked their parents into buying for safety’s sake. The rich kids didn’t drive Alfas anymore, the way they had when Casey had gone to Breed’s Township High. The rich kids drove Yukons and Grand Cherokees, and the poor kids walked or rode in uninsured Ford hatchbacks.The boys had not begun fighting, although they were well into their prelude: the nervous jabbering, the taunts and laughter. They reclined against their bumpers and hoods, as if lounging in this parking lot, in this cruel weather, might be something they would do regardless of the enemy presence. But this appearance was betrayed, more frequently as the minutes passed, by the shouting of insults and promises rising in calculated menace.The shouts came through the glass clearly enough, drowning out the overhead Top 40 from the cassette tapes that headquarters sent to their franchises. Each boy’s mouth expelled puffs of vapor as he threatened war. At first the fog dissipated, but then the frozen air began to congregate and jostle above them as the shouting heightened, and soon there would be nothing for the boys to do but run at each other and strike.Casey counted about a dozen on each side. They had more numbers tonight than they’d had in December. He had not been there, but he had thought about it often, and the morning after the incident he’d called Chad Richardson in to narrate the scene for him. During the past few weeks, in moments of idleness, he had stared out the window and imagined the wrangling boys. He had wondered what he would have done in Chad’s position, then abandoned the thought. Casey did not work well with theoretical scenarios.The taunts increased, and the boys spread themselves out in a rough formation. The swearing had taken on a sinister feel, the shouts so foul that the frozen vapor that carried them seemed to be a very real kind of pollution. Casey broke from the spell of the spectacle and looked around him. Jenny was staring dumbly, hypnotized, as he had been. He looked toward the smoking section and saw that the couple who had come to drink coffee were transfixed by the scene as well, though they stayed in their distant booth. Chad Richardson had called the police before it had even come to this, he thought. But Chad Richardson had been wrong -- wasn’t that the consensus? Hadn’t he called too early? Hadn’t he shirked his responsibility?“I think they’re about to go at it,” said Jenny.He wondered what she meant by stating such an obvious thing. Was she trying to indicate that he was not playing his part? “The Howards really scared me at that meeting,” she said. “I mean, they sounded so serious. Oh my god, Mr. Fielder, I can’t lose my job. Seriously, I can’t.”Melodrama, thought Casey. If she thought she was the one who had been scared by the Howards’ meeting, then she didn’t know what scared was. But of course she didn’t think much about him. She was simply laying another problem at his feet, formally passing on yet another crisis to the manager, who knew how to fix things. She didn’t see it the way he did. The fight could not be allowed to happen, of course . . . but that meeting, the Howards’ emphatic stance on the matter: no more police reports.Outside the boys continued to yell, continued to inch toward collision. The screams overlapped, the voices competing, climbing on top of each other like rats escaping a swollen well. The bass was leaving them, the booming juvenile threats collapsing into a shrillness that indicated an inability to articulate, a need to shriek and rise, a need that would finally manifest itself in the beating of other boys. The Howards had called the meeting upon receiving the memo, which had come via certified mail eight days after the December fight. Their understanding of the situation, Casey felt, was typical of them, typical of any couple who had made it into their eighties without ever living east of Keystone Avenue, who had sunk an afterthought of stock earnings into a chain restaurant where they had never eaten. They wanted this thing dealt with, they said. They ranted to Casey without acknowledging the reasonableness of his response, his deference to the handbook. There could be no more fights, they said, over and over again, so the employees were to do what they had to, whatever that meant.Their strategy hadn’t worked, evidently. As dangerous as this could be for him, Casey couldn’t help but feel a small victory: the old couple who managed to control a thousand aspects of his life could not manage this handful of teenagers, they could not mandate them out of existence.The message had been clear, at least from headquarters. The insurance would be revoked if there was another incident. End of story. They had heard about the news coverage, read the reports Casey had dutifully filed. It was an intractable situation, headquarters said. The margins were already too narrow, the premiums almost too high to sustain. With another fight, the insurance would go, and this would be the end of the Breed’s Township O’Ruddy’s.A sandy-haired St. Brendan’s boy, his muscular build evident despite his bulky black winter clothes, stepped forward, breaching a line that had been tacitly defined. Now the chaos of the screams accompanied action. A short, thin boy from Breed’s Township High, wearing a ludicrous teal parka -- Casey knew it was likely to be a Starter jacket for some expansion sports franchise -- approached the one who had crossed the line. These two vanguards mirrored each other from a distance of five feet, spraying bad language and spittle so emphatically that the air between them soon became clouded.Jenny spoke, and Casey’s body jerked. “Oh shit,” she said.“What?” he said. “What? You know them, right? Do you know them?”“A couple of them, yeah,” she said.“What’s going to happen?” he said, but she didn’t answer.“Jenny, are these kids really going to hurt each other, or is this for show? Are they just showing off?”She squinted at the glass, which her warm breath had fogged. She wiped the window with the hem of her apron. “Who would they be showing off for?”“For each other? You know, a turf war kind of thing? To show who’s in charge?”She thought before answering. “They don’t really care about that. The ones I know don’t, anyway. Everyone usually just sticks to their own business. I don’t really know what this is about, Mr. Fielder.”The window fogged again as she spoke. She pulled her face back like a snake about to strike, then touched her index finger to her blurred reflection. She absently traced her initials into the fog, then wiped the design away, sheepish.“What are you going to do, Mr. Fielder?”He didn’t answer. The boys were still barking threats. The two at the middle had moved even closer together, both waiting for the tinder to catch.“I can’t lose my job.”“Goddammit, Jenny, neither can I,” he said. “That’s not what this is about, anyway.” He bit his lower lip and squinted again at the parking lot.Chad Richardson wasn’t the kind of person who liked to handle crises. Chad Richardson seemed to manage the restaurant with the perpetual hope that nothing would go wrong, which was why he’d been stuck on the weekday shifts for two years now; on the night of the December fight, he’d been filling in because Casey had had strep throat. So while it was true, Casey thought, that Chad had called the police by this stage, the eyes that had watched Chad had not judged him kindly.He had paused to tell himself this, to collect himself. He didn’t like having said “goddammit” to an employee. There was something in the handbook about swearing, but he couldn’t remember the exact wording.“We’ve got to do something, though,” he said to Jenny, in a much softer tone. They looked at each other now, and her face was honest and fearful. Seconds earlier, in her schoolgirl flightiness, she had written her initials in the fog of the glass, and the memory of this strange innocence, and the untouchable prettiness of the look she gave him, spurred him to make a bold claim. “We should call the police,” he said.She didn’t respond for a few seconds, not until the boy in the teal jacket had knocked his coiled fist against the shoulder of the muscular boy from St. Brendan’s. “Do it if you think you should,” she said. “I’m just saying, I can’t lose my job.”The St. Brendan’s boy swiped wildly with an open hand at his opponent, knocking off the teal baseball hat that matched the Starter jacket. The Township boy had shaggy dark hair that bobbed as he ducked and struck back. His punch landed south of his enemy’s face, striking him in the neck. A punch was returned, similarly off-mark. Once each had thrown a fist, the others raced toward the center, and the two lines of boys crashed together like cymbals. In this way the fight began and continued, the fists flying about with terrible randomness, punches landing everywhere and nowhere. Casey, never having witnessed such an event, watched with fascination. He had thought that a brawl might be more ordered, the brutality more expertly directed.He was now learning that rage is at its heart a graceless, inef- ficient thing. It seemed clear to him that the fight would continue in this way -- chaotic, mismanaged -- until the fighters fell from exhaustion and cold.This was one hope the night offered. While it was true that the clashing fighters outside his window were intent on damaging each other, they were simply not very good at it. It was possible that in the end nothing would come of it, and eventually they would accept something less than total victory. He could imagine it happening because it would have happened before, he now was certain, if Chad Richardson had not been so eager to call the authorities. Casey was not Chad. The Howards only put up with people like Chad, he thought, because they knew Casey was there to rein them in, fix their errors. What they had meant, when they said that it couldn’t happen again, was that Casey could not let it happen again. But what was it? Casey did not know whether they had meant that there could not be any more fights or simply any more police, and the ignorance seared him. He knew, or thought he knew, that there could be the fight without the police. This was the hope.It was below zero, he thought, or close to it. Even with the exercise of fighting, their bodies could not hold out long. Hats were knocked off in the scuffling, and they had shed their gloves early on. In time the extremities would go numb and the fighters would be made useless. Blows to exposed skin would sting like acid, and both the puncher and the victim would suffer. The cold had also forced them into these puffy outfits -- they were swaddled in bulky parkas and sweaters -- so the arms they thrashed about were constricted, and their punches often landed harmlessly on their enemies’ bulk. The bodies they threw at each other looked like those of upright weevils. At this point they fought the way hockey players fight, hanging on to each other for balance and leverage. A few had already fallen and were wrestling on the ground; their only goal was to find the fulcrum that might allow them to swing themselves on top of the other and start flailing away. The muscular boy from St. Brendan’s had his opponent in a headlock and drove repeated strikes into the exposed face. The fighters kept to their zones and assignments, they fought in pods and pairs.“I really need to call the police,” Casey said, but they were empty words. He may have said them only because they were the last words he had spoken, a full minute before, the only words still in his brain. He did not really acknowledge what it might mean to call the police, what physical action this might entail. The ugly ballet outside the window held him rapt, and the eyes, the absent observers, were forgotten now. He had become the spectator, and there was no room left in his trance for whoever was watching him, whoever would watch him. He did not notice when Jenny scooted out of the booth. He registered her absence only when she spoke. Her voice came from several feet behind him, but his mind did not process what she said. He swiveled his head to look at her and saw that she was at the server stand, with the phone receiver pressed to her ear. She repeated herself. “The phone’s out again, Mr. Fielder. We can’t call the cops.”He turned back to the window and heard Jenny set down the receiver and return to her position in the booth. She settled herself there carefully, as if trying not to wake him.Outside the restaurant, only a few of the boys remained standing, circling each other and thus marking geometric shapes on the thin layer of snow that had fallen in the morning. They would have looked like weary boxers but for the fact that they could not keep their arms up, and so instead they looked like drunks searching for a place to pass out. The parking lot was speckled with coupled figures -- one boy prone and protective, his counterpart thrashing above him, lost in a dream of fury. One of these fighters, a stout, black-haired boy, rose with a grimace and deliberate slowness, like an old man with a bad back. His victim rolled over and spit bloody goop onto the snow. The wide boy summoned two other boys from his crowd. These friends made their way toward him, huddled together, and then the three of them walked toward a light blue sedan.This is how it should end, Casey thought, snapping out of his haze. One of the victors, afraid of getting caught or simply wasted by the cold, would have to leave. There would be no shame in it for him, since he had been winning, consistently and obviously. The other boy, the beaten one, could not be the first to run off. In Breed’s Township, a reputation for cowardice circulated too quickly and stuck too permanently.With something like glee, Casey watched this boy, together with his staggering friends, climb into the sedan and drive out of the parking lot. He had to weave around fallen, wriggling pairs of bodies, and someone shot a snowball at his windshield, but in five seconds he was gone, and Casey watched the taillights fade away down Arthur Avenue.Soon others left. Using the diversion of the fleeing sedan, two St. Brendan’s kids sought refuge in a Pathfinder. They escaped notice until the engine started and all the St. Brendan’s boys, recognizing the highly tuned motor of one of their own, turned their heads and saw the abandonment. One of the boys scuttled in front of the Pathfinder as it drove toward the exit, patted the hood, then hopped into the backseat.Now that the precedent had been established, there were more defections, although they did not happen at once. Though depleted of the energy that had made it spectacular, the fight continued, and Casey continued to watch it from his perch. It seemed that he, rather than any of the teenagers, had won the day. After two haggard Township boys finally managed to start the engine of a brown Pontiac, twelve boys remained in the lot, only a handful of them still engaged. One pair of boys fought by falling into each other, like trees crashing together in the wind. If he called the cops now, they would laugh at him. He was handling it, he was letting it play out. It was the sort of advice the handbook might have given. The eyes would approve, he thought.It didn’t occur to Casey, as it later would, that he could have shooed them off. It would be obvious to those who judged him in hindsight, the retrospective eyes, but it just never entered his mind. There may have been subconscious reasoning behind it, he told himself later. For one thing, it probably wouldn’t have done any good. He had no confidence in his ability to scare teenagers, or even to talk to them; they seemed like deer who had long gotten over their instinctive fear of humans. But in truth he just never thought about going out to speak to them. He was an observer tonight, a fascinated spectator of a remarkable pageant, a show that he’d never seen before. The idea that he might participate in this scene, play his own role in it, had become ludicrous even before he went through the motions of telling Jenny he would call the police.One Township boy, who had spent most of the fight pinned to the cold ground by a fat St. Brendan’s kid, finally freed himself and stood, shaking off the chill and the wounds. He seemed to notice for the first time that the numbers had dwindled, and upon realizing this he raced for his car, pausing only long enough to open the door for a comrade. Within twenty seconds another car left, this one a RAV4 holding two boys from St. Brendan’s.After the flight of this last SUV, only four boys remained in the lot. In the span of two minutes most of the combatants had fled in shame and pain. Casey waited for the simple problem of four boys to resolve itself.But something had changed in the scene outside the window. The boys were not fighting. They all looked the same to Casey, all of them hatless now, their hair tousled and powdered with snow, their faces red, swelling, trickling blood. Frozen vapor now came from their bodies as well as their mouths, though they weren’t speaking. Jenny pressed her face to the glass and cupped her hands around her eyes to see better.It had just struck Casey that of the four boys, three of them were from Breed’s Township High School -- one of them even had a letter jacket on -- and only one was from St. Brendan’s. He had been left behind.It was the boy from the beginning, the muscular, handsome boy with short sandy hair and expensive black clothes. He held his hands at his sides and stood tall, but he moved backward as the three approached, trying to steer himself in the direction of a Jeep that sat alone at the south end of the lot.“He’s all by himself,” said Jenny.Casey moved away from the window, his eyes still focused on the parking lot. Like the boy from St. Brendan’s, he backed away slowly, as if walking in the dark. “I need to call the police,” he said. And he would have found a way to do this, he believed he would have, but at that moment one of the three sprang at the tall St. Brendan’s boy, driving a fist into his crotch, and the boy fell onto his side. Jenny had her hands over her face, looking through her fingers as if she were watching a horror movie.Now the three from Township High stood like points of a triangle above the fallen boy, and they spoke to each other, gray breath darting from their mouths. One boy, wearing a puffy yellow jacket, jogged to a car.They’re going, Casey thought. Just one last cheap shot at their rival, and now he’s starting the car. They will leave. The cops could do nothing now except necessitate a report. Get the restaurant closed down. Cost him his job. But instead of leaving, one of the remaining attackers got behind the sandy-haired boy and pulled him to his feet. He kept his captive’s arms pinned behind his back and accepted his weight.“That’s it,” said Casey. He had now retreated to the server stand and put his hand on the phone receiver. But then he froze where he stood, afraid that any movement would disturb his view, and he had to watch. He saw a figure dart from the black car, sprint across the parking lot to the others. The figure held a gray rod in his hand. The boy who held the captive’s arms ducked, and the attacker swung the rod laterally, like a side-armed pitcher, and struck the sandy-haired boy in the jaw.Unconscious, the boy slumped to his right, but he was kept off the ground by the one who held him from behind. A sticky string of red dropped from his mouth onto his coat. The boy in the yellow jacket calculated his next strike based on the new angle of the victim’s face, held the rod with both hands, and swung from the left, up and to the right, smashing the side of the head. The boy crumpled now, in spite of the efforts of the one holding him, and lay on the ground. The three from Township ran toward the black sedan, and the car jolted out of the lot, running over the curb and hedges directly onto Arthur Avenue, at about the same time Casey and Jenny broke from their stupor.“Jesus!” Jenny gasped, in a voice already debilitated by an onslaught of tears. “Bleeding!”Casey ran. “Call 911!” he shouted on his way out, once to Jenny and once to the stupefied couple who still sat with their hands around their coffee cups. He jerked open the two sets of doors that led outside, slipped on a patch of ice, then sprinted toward the fallen boy, whose head had leaked a dark puddle on the snow.
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First Chapter

oneO’Ruddy’s thrived on Friday nights, under the stewardship of Casey Fielder. As the general manager he exercised absolute power here, and he had to wield his power with composure and resolve, or his staff would be lost in the chaos, in the kinetic heat of bodies and track lighting and frying food, in the clamor of conversation and complaint. On this particular Friday, as he watched and controlled the frenzy of the late dinner rush, it seemed to him that O’Ruddy’s was thriving as usual, and he approved.Casey was not above sweating alongside his staff, and throughout the dinner shift he bused as many tables, by his careful reckoning, as Paulo did. Once or twice he threw together some house salads to help out the harried sous-chef, and he ran meals to tables when the servers asked. But mostly his job was to supervise: to judge, to correct, to encourage, and sometimes to condemn. He watched even as he wiped down tables and mopped up spills, even as he talked with customers and restocked the service stand, and tonight he was satisfied with the performance of his employees. The servers -- all women, all sporting ponytails and pastel polo shirts, nametags bobbing on their breasts -- wove gracefully through the maze of the dining floor, around the sluggish busboy. Casey approved of their pacing and their flirtations, of the way their singular pursuit of tips merged so neatly with the interests of the restaurant. When he crossed the threshold of the kitchen, that fluorescent, intense world, the usual racket struck him: a symphony of clattering plates, spurting water, the sizzling grill, the machine- gun Spanish of the cooks and dishwashers and the Latino radio station they listened to. In the kitchen, the workers moved with the frenetic purpose of ER doctors; sweat shook off the jerky limbs of the head cook like water off a Labrador. They were entirely unmoved by Casey’s presence when he came to check on them, adjusting their behavior to his watchfulness not one bit. One of the prep cooks even had a cigarette hanging from his lips, and he did not apologize when Casey scolded him. But Casey granted the kitchen staff some leeway on Friday nights because of their stoic competence, and tonight they were meeting the challenges of the rush.Casey was meeting the challenges as well, and most important, he exuded a sense of assurance and command. He had somehow kept his clothes pressed and his cowlick mastered, and the sweat stains did not show on his navy blue shirt, although he felt more disheveled than he looked. His feet hurt at the sides, and the grease-and-sweat stink of his undershirt had begun to overcome the Gold Bond powder he’d puffed into his armpits at the beginning of the shift. But no one at O’Ruddy’s would ever suspect that the cares of management had worn him down tonight. He mitigated his tiredness with brisk, purposeful movement. He listened to the whining of his staff -- When can we switch to the unwrapped straws? Why does Julio put so much goddamn sour cream on everything? -- and he corrected their mistakes. Credit cards that had been overcharged, platters that had been ordered twice, a clogged toilet, an absent dishwasher. All the problems were laid at his feet, abandoned there, as if he could turn a magic wand on them and -- poof.There was something in Casey that loved this, or rather something that needed it in an elemental way, the way a plant needs sunlight. Something in him turned crisis into sustenance, made the restaurant -- especially on Friday nights -- a place where he felt more at home than anywhere else. Sometimes he did feel possessed of secrets and special powers, although it was really nothing more than experience, a personality suited for this kind of work, and the guidance of the manager’s handbook, which he consulted several times a day.Within these walls (where he could be found, on average, seventy- five hours a week), virtually every aspect of Casey’s behavior had a foundation in the handbook. The expression on his face, for instance, was specifically calibrated according to the directive on page 18: When interacting with guests about nonpecuniary matters, the manager’s expression should be that of a dinner party host who is pleased to see all of his/her friends enjoying themselves. Mindful of this advice, Casey held his eyes open wide against the scowl that often swelled inside. This gave him a look of perpetual expectation, as if he were always waiting for something to pounce on him.His fidelity to the dress code was absolute, so much so that he found himself wearing his manager’s uniform more or less continuously, regardless of the occasion. Page 32: The manager’s pants should be black and neatly pressed; the shirt and tie must be stately and of solid colors.After eight years at O’Ruddy’s, most of his wardrobe conformed to the dress code. Several months earlier, at the funeral for his Uncle Rich, he had looked down to find that he was not only wearing the requisite manager’s outfit but had pinned his manager’s nametag to the appropriate part of his shirt (on the left breast, one inch above the top of the pocket), though he wasn’t going in to work that day. Most of the handbook’s admonitions had seeped their way into his habits during his tenure at O’Ruddy’s. He had mastered the nuances and complexities of the place, and he considered Friday nights to be the reward for this mastery. On these nights he belonged among the happy, satiated crowd and the tip-giddy servers, because of the fact that he made it all happen, he provided for their comfort and fixed their problems. That they took him for granted was no matter, because he knew that without him it would all go away.It had been his idea to focus their attention on Fridays, for example, by creating Friday prime rib specials and putting coupons in Thursday’s Beacon. Though he never spoke of the strategy in a selfcongratulatory way, he had come to see it as a marketing plan that was singularly appropriate for this particular township and restaurant.On Saturdays anyone seeking diversion drove the half hour to Scranton, where there was a cineplex and a mall. On Sundays the restaurants of the township were dominated by the senior citizens, enamored of half-sandwich specials and 6 percent tips. The location of the O’Ruddy’s, south of Arthur Avenue on the cusp of East Breed’s, was inconvenient for the white-collar workers who might have come in for business lunches or after-dinner drinks, and so the weekday receipts largely depended on East Breed’s locals: the ironworkers, the unemployed. These people were suspicious of the restaurant -- the forced festivity of its decor, the cost of its fried cheese appetizers -- and usually favored the Dairy Bar, unless it was someone’s birthday. There were lunch shifts, especially in the winter, when the cooks at O’Ruddy’s didn’t need to filter the oil in the fryer.But all kinds of people came on Fridays, sometimes in droves, rambunctious from the cessation of work. Birthday celebrants, anxious first-daters, softball teams, lonely drunks eating fried jalapeños at the bar. The bartenders invented flamboyantly colored cocktails for the Friday drinkers, and Casey scheduled only his experienced servers for the dinner shift. On Friday afternoons the cooks would lay great slabs of poultry and beef on the back counter to thaw. The souschef would jam the chiller with as many premade house salads as he could fit. The Friday servers showed up early for side work, and the small platoon of pert young women would gossip and smoke as they each rolled fifty sets of silverware. By seven o’clock the hostess would be cautioning new arrivals of a forty-minute wait, and typically they waited. There weren’t many restaurants of its kind in Breed’s Township, and no one wanted to drive to Scranton on Friday night.On these evenings O’Ruddy’s was expected to total receipts of eight thousand dollars, in the course of serving around three hundred customers, including bar patrons. The restaurant was expected to accomplish this with a staff of six in the kitchen and six on the floor, plus the supervising manager. This, at least, was the benchmark set in previous years, and which had been surpassed every weekend this past fall, a season of bliss. The Breed’s Township High football team had gone eight and one, and after each game a throng of giddy spectators trooped over from the nearby stadium to discuss what they had seen over Busch Lights and buffalo wings. The autumn weather had been mild and breezy, so people avoided the stuffy, windowless bars near the township center. O’Ruddy’s had often reached the maximum capacity (112 persons, according to a brass plate in the entryway) and in Casey’s memory that fiscal season was defined by a conviviality that he had not felt before, that gave him hope. The restaurant had churned out the happy atmosphere of fried food and celebration and alcohol and flirtation, and in the midst of this jovial mass Casey had acknowledged -- with his own kind of joy -- the real matter, the true success: the Breed’s Township O’Ruddy’s was flourishing under his command.But it was January now, and things had changed, in spite of the sense of chaos and gluttony that surrounded him on this night, in spite of the frantic motion and the kitchen noise. Casey finally admitted to himself that the hectic activity of the restaurant belied another slow night. The sound and fury that reminded him of better times, and that had really lasted for only an hour or so, had been the result of a dearth of workers. In a time of hardship, which January was proving to be, Casey would schedule no more staff than was needed. This meant that there had been only four waitresses all night, and one busboy, and by eight o’clock the fifteen-minute wait (even as a half-dozen open tables, littered with used dishes, mocked the hostess) sent the later arrivals scattering to the Dairy Bar. The wait quickly shrank to ten minutes, then five, but by then it was too late, and at eight forty-five the hostess found herself facing a vacant foyer, chewing her thumbnail and waiting to be sent home. By ten Casey was sweatier and achier than he’d been during the busiest autumn Fridays, yet he knew it was because he had tried to summon that past glory through haste and micromanagement, and because he’d had to bus tables himself during the brief rush. The slump, which had begun in late November, had recently led to an exodus of the experienced girls, and those who remained were either too hard up or too lazy to find work elsewhere.At ten-thirty Casey sent all but one of the waitresses to the break room to total up their receipts and roll more silverware. He told the bartender, who hadn’t made a drink in forty-five minutes, to clean up and leave; if someone came in later, Casey would handle the bar. He retreated to his office, a square dark room next to the dry goods storage closet. Because of the stifling fires of the kitchen, they kept this back half of the restaurant minimally heated, and it was so cold in his office he put on his puffy brown coat and a scarf before he went in.He printed out the preliminary returns from the computer and extrapolated the numbers to estimate how they would do, although he wouldn’t know for sure until all the girls turned in their cash. He rounded up some of the numbers, and he gave generous estimations for the servers’ cash receipts, in the hopes that this would push the final number into something short of extreme disappointment. It didn’t help; they would be at least three thousand below average again, for the fifth Friday in a row.It was not Casey’s restaurant, not his investment that rode on these numbers. In fact the numbers would spell absolute disaster for no one. The octogenarian franchise owners, Mr. and Mrs. Ambrose Howard, were not going to allow themselves to fail this late in the game. There were indications (a house in Weston, Mrs. Howard’s stockpile of minks, a new Skylark every other year) that the Howards’ financial reserves were deep and diverse, though they were stingy enough when it came to running O’Ruddy’s. Casey wasn’t sure why they bothered with the place, unless it simply gave them something to do, and another way to prove their fiscal mettle. The Friday numbers were a disappointment, it was true, but they were only that -- not a disaster, not a death sentence.There was no comfort in this, however, unless it was to the Howards themselves, for there would still be blame, and this, like so much else at O’Ruddy’s, would be laid at Casey’s feet. Although there were many factors beyond his control to consider, the low numbers were a reflection on him in some way, or at least he knew they would be perceived as such. The blame is assigned to the general manager after five failing Fridays in a row, just as it is given to the coach when a team hits a losing streak, the president when the economy slumps. He knew he should be proactive in his defense.He put aside the papers and began writing a memo on the computer. He addressed it to the Howards but sent a closed copy to the O’Ruddy’s headquarters in Dallas. He restrained his language to avoid sounding accusatory of the headquarters, though in truth he directed much of his personal blame toward them. For one thing -- and this is what he led the memo with -- substantial losses could be explained by the “O’Ruddy’s is on the clock!” campaign. A month earlier the marketing department had thrust this new promotion upon the franchise by shipping them a crate full of cheap fifteen-minute hourglasses and a video explaining the idea: once an order was taken, the server would turn over the hourglass, and if the food wasn’t on the table by the time the sand ran out, the meal was complimentary. Casey’s staff had proven themselves to be categorically unprepared for this challenge. The end of the “O’Ruddy’s is on the clock!” campaign, Casey wrote to close the first paragraph, is eagerly anticipated by the servers, cooks, and, I must confess, myself.He outlined other reasons, other justifications. The next one was the weather, which Casey admitted could not be blamed on the meddlers in Dallas. A vicious storm of freezing rain had struck in December, just before the deep freeze that came with Christmas, sheathing the township in ice for eight days. They were now more than two weeks into January, and each day of the new year had begun in the single digits. With the mean chill came heavy snow, although there were no snowmen, because even the children refused to stay outside long enough to make them. Headquarters and the Howards would have to adjust and be more understanding. He did not say it in these words, and in fact he euphemized the problem so much he wondered if they could even understand his desperation. He could not say what he wanted to say -- that the weather was starving them of their guests. He didn’t want to mention the fight in the memo. Headquarters knew about it, and it would likely be the first thing they thought of when they saw the return address (they controlled forty-two O’Ruddy’s franchises across the U.S., and probably remembered only the ones that had caused trouble). But still he could not write about it, even cursorily. Besides, he didn’t really know if the fight had hurt business. It had been covered by the Breed’s Township Beacon, much to the distress of the Howards, and for days afterward customers had asked him about it in serious, low tones, as if the brawlers might return and start beating on them during the Sunday buffet. But any press is good press, he had reminded the Howards. The media had made it clear that no one had been hurt or arrested, in spite of the fact that the fight had involved at least a dozen agitated teenagers. Casey didn’t really think it would scare anyone away, and the coverage might remind people that the restaurant was there. He hoped very much that all of this was true.And so he ended the letter with as obsequious a tone as he could muster after the end of a wearying shift, and folded it into an envelope. Then he heard Jenny, the remaining on-duty server, knock. He knew it was Jenny because she wore a large assembly of finger rings, and when she knocked it sounded like someone nailing something to the door.She stuck her head in before he responded, the way they all did when they bothered him in his office. It infuriated him, not because he needed the privacy but because it seemed to him that in doing this, his employees were trying to catch him in the act of something illicit, and he did not know what they thought they would see. Did they hope to catch him skimming cash from the bank bags? Watering down the booze bottles? Masturbating?But Jenny may have used the knock-and-enter technique as a simple extension of her personality. There was a kind of endearing impertinence to her. In some ways she showed deference to his role as her boss -- refusing to use his first name, for example -- yet she often used curse words when speaking to him, and he could never get her to stop chewing gum during shifts; she was never abashed when he lectured her about this touchstone of the server policy. She was young, the only server still in high school, and Casey liked her for the guilelessness that came with her youth. She had once told him, during her training, that she wasn’t ready to be tested on the menu because she hadn’t studied it. He had been moved by her stupid, naked honesty, though at the time he had sat her at table six and made her read the menu until she knew the thing by heart. Casey understood that honesty was hardly a common trait among teenagers, but in Jenny’s case it seemed a function of her youth, something that would certainly dissipate as she grew older.Jenny was also carelessly good-looking, with an eccentric sense of fashion that competed with her beauty. In addition to the mass of finger rings, she wore a huge assortment of hair clips and headbands, and her eyes were heavily shadowed. She often dyed her hair to match her polo shirt, and her earrings were conspicuous and dangling. But she was organically pretty, one of those girls who would have been more attractive naked and without makeup than at any other time, although Casey refrained from picturing her thus.“Mr. Fielder,” she said, still represented only by her head, encased in a mass of brunette hair streaked with bolts of scarlet. She was peeking through a small opening in the door, as if this stance were less of an intrusion. “You got to get out here, now.” Panic, mitigated by her delicate voice but obvious nonetheless.He clenched his muscles, sitting up straight and biting his teeth together.“What’s going on?” he asked with a casual lilt, hoping for a mundane emergency. Jenny was the only server on the floor now, it being nearly eleven. Maybe there was a late rush after the Township High basketball game, or perhaps she had misentered a total for a credit card and the customer had turned hostile. She was a good server, personable and reliable, but she had her limits. It would be something of this nature, Casey told himself.“They’re back,” Jenny said. “Those boys are back again.”
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Reading Group Guide

Aftermath is set in East Breed's, Pennsylvania, a blue-collar town that simmers with barely concealed prejudices and unspoken rules. One Friday night in the parking lot of a chain restaurant, class tension erupts in a brutal fight between the privileged boys from St. Brendan's and a group of kids from the local high school. Casey Fielder, the restaurant's manager, watches the melee but does nothing to stop it. When the fight ends, Colin Chase, a handsome, cocky student at St. Brendan's, is left severely brain-damaged.

In a compelling and at times heartbreaking narrative, Brian Shawver portrays the lasting effects of one night. Casey, ostracized by his unforgivable behavior, loses his job and dedicates himself to investigating the causes of the fight, hoping that his discoveries will provide some justification for his failure to act. For Lea, Colin's mother, the incident ironically offers a way to reclaim the defiant, arrogant son she hardly knew and could barely love. Although she hopes that the guilty boy will be found and punished, Lea can't escape the feeling that Colin somehow brought the horror upon himself. As she looks for clues that will help her understand him, she discovers his apparent devotion to a young woman named Jenny, and she seizes on this relationship as the key that will finally allow her to love her son unconditionally.

1. Casey's response to the fight in the parking lot was clearly unsatisfactory, both in a moral and a practical sense. What should Casey have done during the fight? What would have been the repercussions of such action?

2. There is some ambiguity concerning which of Colin's acts of cruelty finally prompted Jenny to seek revenge onhim. What do you think this "last straw" was, or do you think it is left to the reader's imagination?

3. At the end of the novel, Lea wants to tell Jenny "Colin is better this way." Why does Lea believe this (if she does), and at what point in the novel does she decide that the damaged Colin is better than the original one?

4. Class conflict plays a role in the novel, yet the Breed's Township elite are hesitant to cast blame on the underclass for Colin's injury. To what extent can the incident be blamed on class issues? How and where does the novel implicate the attitudes of either or both of Breed's Township's social classes?

5. Rachel is shown to be highly critical of Casey's behavior during the fight, in spite of the fact that she herself has been involved in scandalous and morally dubious behavior in the past. What does Rachel see as the primary difference between her and Casey's past offenses?

6. Much of Casey's behavior seems to stem from a love of order, precision, and conformity, a love that is exemplified in the concept of the chain restaurant. How and where does the novel imply that certain aspects of this mentality can lead to a failure of morality?

7. Does the epilogue present a happy ending for one or both of the characters? In particular, how does the epilogue present either a sense of hope or a sense of gloom about Casey's situation and his future?

8. Should Casey have been legally liable for the damage that was inflicted on Colin Chase? What sort of case might have been presented by a defense attorney--or a prosecutor--if he had been brought up on charges?

9. The epigraph for the second part quotes St. Thomas Aquinas, who claimed that sins of commission are generally the worst kind, but that some specific sins of omission are worse than "active sinning." Under what circumstances might a sin of omission be worse than a sin of commission, and does Casey's sin of omission fulfill these requirements?

10. Is Colin Chase pathologically malicious, or is he a somewhat common example of a mean, selfish teenage boy? To what extent are Lea and Geoffrey to blame for Colin's wickedness?

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