The Reconstructionist

( 5 )


One instant can change an entire lifetime.

As a boy, Ellis Barstow heard the sound of the collision that killed Christopher, his older half brother—an accident that would haunt him for years. A decade later, searching for purpose after college, Ellis takes a job as a forensic reconstructionist, investigating and re-creating the details of fatal car accidents—under the guidance of the irascible John Boggs, who married Christopher's girlfriend. Ellis takes naturally to the work, ...

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The Reconstructionist: A Novel

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One instant can change an entire lifetime.

As a boy, Ellis Barstow heard the sound of the collision that killed Christopher, his older half brother—an accident that would haunt him for years. A decade later, searching for purpose after college, Ellis takes a job as a forensic reconstructionist, investigating and re-creating the details of fatal car accidents—under the guidance of the irascible John Boggs, who married Christopher's girlfriend. Ellis takes naturally to the work, fascinated by the task of trying to find reason, and justice, within the seemingly random chaos of smashed glass and broken lives. But Ellis is harboring secrets of his own—not only his memory of the car crash that killed his brother but also his feelings for Boggs's wife, Heather, which soon lead to a full-blown affair. And when Boggs inexplicably disappears, Ellis sets out to find him . . . and to try to make sense of the crash site his own life has become.

Raising a host of universal questions—Can science ever explain matters of the heart? Can we ever escape the gravitational pull of the past?—Nick Arvin's novel is at once deeply moving and compulsively readable.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
“I don’t think there’s an end to anything, really,” says John Boggs near the end of Arvin’s (Articles of War) impressive second novel. “We’re always just causing whatever will happen next.” The difficulty, sometimes the impossibility, of tracing this chain reaction lies at the heart of Arvin’s story. Ellis Barstow is a young mechanical engineer who has a traumatic accident in his past—the fiery car crash that killed his half-brother, Christopher, and permanently scarred Christopher’s girlfriend, Heather, when the two were high school sweethearts. Ellis has never stopped thinking about Heather, so when he spots her during a chance encounter years later, he is drawn to her immediately. And, through her, he’s thrust into the work of reconstructing car accidents to discover causation and assign blame. Ellis’s mentor is Heather’s husband, Boggs, a prickly, passionate, tireless devotee of this gruesome occupation. Relationships get complicated, and in the wake of another accident Ellis is forced to reconstruct what really happened during Christopher’s accident and to determine the patterns of causation and blame in his own life. Given the easy thematic promise of this setup, it’s a testament to Arvin’s restraint that the novel’s plot is rarely overwhelmed by its theme. Like Ellis’s painstaking work, the novel is suffused with sharp turns and minute, telling details that add up to a riveting consideration of risk and responsibility. (Mar.)
David Wroblewski
“The Reconstructionist becomes a contemplation of the broadest questions of life: How do we love one another? How do we survive the accidents of our lives? … Nick Arvin is an immensely gifted writer, and he has given us a thrilling, soulful book.”
Cortright McMeel
“With precision prose, The Reconstructionist hurtles the reader at breakneck pace through a story of love and the collision physics of auto crashes....A materpiece of modern fiction.”
Kirkus Reviews
A man who uncovers the causes of car accidents is forced to reckon with the one that transformed his childhood. Ellis, the hero of the second novel by Arvin (Articles of War, 2005, etc.), has the grim job of investigating car-crash sites on the behalf of lawyers. The gig involves a high degree of precision, which Arvin explains in winning detail: What does a pattern of scratches and dents say about how many times a car flipped over? How far would a passenger be ejected from the windshield of a car that hits another at a particular speed? Ellis and his boss, Boggs, criss-cross the country to study cases, performing their grisly work with the kind of gallows humor common to homicide cops. But Arvin explores what happens when grief can't be patched over with jokes or cold logic. At the center of Ellis' transformation is Heather, who plays a host of roles in the story: She's Boggs' wife, Ellis' mistress and was on the scene when Ellis' half brother was killed in an accident when they were teens. Boggs goes off the rails when he discovers the affair, threatening suicide and sending Ellis on an extended road trip that involves visits to past accident sites. Arvin renders these old accidents in such vivid detail that you can almost, but not quite, ignore the contrivance of the setup. As Ellis struggles to chase down Boggs, he's also piecing together details of his half brother's death—which, by the time the truth becomes clear, feels swallowed by the plot. And a subplot involving Ellis' accidental maiming of a jaywalker feels oddly tacked-on, given the seriousness of its aftermath. Accidents are everywhere and unavoidable, Arvin means to say, but ironically his characters feel overly controlled.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061995163
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 3/13/2012
  • Series: P.S. Series
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Nick Arvin is the award-winning author of the novel Articles of War, named one of the Best Books of the Year by Esquire, and the story collection In the Electric Eden. A graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, he also holds degrees in mechanical engineering from the University of Michigan and Stanford, and has worked in both automotive and forensic engineering. He lives in Denver, Colorado.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 5 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 9, 2012

    Really an interesting look in trying to determine the facts about automobile accidents with a very human touch in the center

    The Reconstructionists are a firm that specializes in determining the facts about fatal automobile accidents primarily to be used as testimony for insurance and litigation purposes. At the center of the story is one of the reconstructionis and his boss and a love angle that carries the reader on a most interesting chase. Hard to put down

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  • Posted April 19, 2012

    a novel with a lot of different levels harmoniously working together to present an enjoyable read

    This book worked for me on a lot of different levels. It presented a fascinating picture of an obscure (at least to me) but interesting profession, it presented a puzzle that needed to be solved, and like all good books solved some things and not others, it involved a series of emotional complexities being worked out between interrelated characters, and it explored the mind of a character trying to work his way through the muddle of his past and present. All these things working together in harmony made for an enjoyable novel.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 9, 2012

    I Also Recommend:

    its ok

    I thought it would have been better. Write up was better than the book

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  • Posted March 24, 2012

    Love and Traffic!

    In a story of love, lust, hate and miscommunication Ellis Barstow is muddled. He loves his dead brother’s girlfriend (who also happens to be his boss’ wife). Always has but might not always will. Heather was nice to his when no one else was when he was young and his teenage crush has developed into full blown – something close to obsession.
    Boggs hires Ellis to help him reconstruct vehicle accidents. Their work usually wins lawsuits for their clients; but are they always right? It’s the real world, folks, not gonna happen. Ellis follows Boggs like a puppy but may be the real mind behind their projects. Until.
    Boggs discovers Ellis and Heather have become a bit more than friends. He can’t deal with that so he takes off to places unknown. Ellis, guilt ridden, follows him to make amends.
    Boggs and Ellis make up the main parts of this story. I liked it but I also didn’t. I really liked it until the affair began which seemed to break the book up into a confusing back and forth between Ellis minor breakdown, Boggs' major life crisis and what Heather may have been up to twelve years ago. It’s certainly worth the time to read, if for nothing else than to understand how traffic accidents are thought out.

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  • Posted March 13, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Nick Arvin writes in the brief, blunt style of an investigative

    Nick Arvin writes in the brief, blunt style of an investigative reporter; this befitting the narration of his character's reconstructionist lifestyle. The staccato "voice" is one of an isolated, socially inept man who is used to self-commentary and introspection. It was this controlled inner dialog method that made his book so compulsively readable to me at the beginning. It was this and the story as it developed that kept me whipping through the pages for answers. Who would have thought that a book about car accident reconstruction would be so absorbing? I wouldn't have. But something about the summary made me take a chance on it, and I'm so glad I did. This is a book I'll never forget.
    While this appears on the surface to be the story of an average boy who grows up living a couple of blocks from a dangerous intersection where there were many car wrecks he was able to witness in the nearly immediate aftermath, it cuts much deeper than that. It's the story of how that intersection and the accidents shaped him, his perceptions of people, and his life in total. It's how living within range of continuing, inevitable danger and death, witnessing it regularly, and finally experiencing it personally by way of his brother's death, made him into the man he became. Life's circumstances, the author seems to tell us, our physical surroundings outside the home, can be critical to who we become.
    Through the course of the book, we come to understand that old adage, "there is no one so blind as he who will not see." Human beings often know, but can't "know" the truth of horrendous happenings. We can't "see" them because if we do, they might destroy us or the love we have with others. In Nick Arvin's book, he causes his characters to wrestle with this issue in several ways. It's a powerful struggle that works in juxtaposition with the very meticulously detailed job his protagonist Ellis and his boss Boggs have of seeing, looking over, measuring and configuring, reconstructing automobile accidents. Their very livelihoods come from the ability to see!
    While Arvin's characters are seemingly adept at reconstructing the accidents of others' lives, they have blind spots in their own lives. Both Ellis and Boggs are non-conformists, anti-social, odd and inept in their own ways. They fail to see how to fit in with others. The same goes for Heather, Bogg's wife and Ellis's brother's former girlfriend whom Ellis obsesses over. She creates art projects making tiny, nearly indistinguishable diaramas from trash, and takes odd overexposed pictures made from tiny homemade cameras while hidden in her van. She won't look at the real world around her, but makes fake, bearly distinguishable mini worlds, instead.
    Boggs tells Ellis when he first comes to work they must remember it is an "analytic, emotionally odd have to remind yourself that people died." Disassociation is a part of the job, yet they find crushed Mardi Gras beads, a Babies R Us receipt, a tie...blood...other evidence that there was a human connection to the measurements and numbers coldly calculated and gleaned on sites. This disconnect is seen in other areas of their lives: they both love books, and Boggs loves classical music; cultured and intelligent, you'd think. But, each generally can't relate to human beings and suffering when they first begin their association.
    Through the course of the book, we see Arvin's beautifully sculpted characters develop psychologically, socially and humanely. It is ultimately love that brings them together and saves them. It's love that helps them see everything they need to see. And the journey is one that I traveled with them wide-eyed all the way.
    I'm wondering if I've said enough to convince you to read his book. Let me quote Nick Arvin one more time through one of his characters, " one lives an average life." This may appear to be an average novel about average people in average circumstances. It's not. I hope you'll try it for yourself. Guaranteed not to be missed, though not perfect in every way. The end is a shocker!

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