The Turnaround

( 20 )

Overview

On a hot summer afternoon in 1972, three teenagers drove into an unfamiliar neighborhood and six lives were altered forever.
Thirty five years later, one survivor of that day reaches out to another, opening a door that could lead to salvation. But another survivor is now out of prison, looking for reparation in any form he can find it.
THE TURNAROUND takes us on a journey from the rock-and-soul streets of the '70s to the changing neighborhoods ...

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The Turnaround

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Overview

On a hot summer afternoon in 1972, three teenagers drove into an unfamiliar neighborhood and six lives were altered forever.
Thirty five years later, one survivor of that day reaches out to another, opening a door that could lead to salvation. But another survivor is now out of prison, looking for reparation in any form he can find it.
THE TURNAROUND takes us on a journey from the rock-and-soul streets of the '70s to the changing neighborhoods of D.C. today, from the diners and auto garages of the city to the inside of Walter Reed Army Medical Hospital, where wounded men and women have returned to the world in a time of war. A novel of fathers and sons, wives and husbands, loss, victory and violent redemption, THE TURNAROUND is another compelling, highly charged novel from George Pelecanos, "the best crime novelist in America." -Oregonian

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Editorial Reviews

Patrick Anderson
George Pelecanos's fine new novel continues the remarkable portrait of this city he has been producing for the past 16 years. The Turnaround is his 15th novel and probably his most accessible. The unnerving violence, often drug-related, that marked many of his earlier books is muted here. The story begins with a racially inspired murder, but in time the old hatreds give way to a quest for forgiveness. It's a mature story, told with easy mastery, and no one who cares about Washington and about excellence in American writing should miss it.
—The Washington Post
Marilyn Stasio
George Pelecanos, the working man's champion among genre authors, is still keeping close neighborhood watch in The Turnaround, alert to signs of the social rot and moral decay that contribute to the generational cycles of urban crime. The home truths he examines here—that bad boys, like good boys, get their values from their fathers, and that fatherless boys are easy criminal prey—are familiar themes of his gritty Washington-based novels. But he has rarely pushed these articles of faith to such painful extremes or seemed so optimistic about the chances for redemption.
—The New York Times Book Review
Janet Maslin
"The bus he had caught was an express," Mr. Pelecanos writes about how one of the book's losers gets caught up in its inexorable movement toward darkness. But there are others here who are determined to make amends, on the theory that "you move along in life, you feel the need to make the beds you left undone." Plain as this is, it's also cogent and powerful, delivered without the preachiness into which Mr. Pelecanos has been known to lapse. He tells a tight, suspenseful story. And he packs enough of a wallop to put The Turnaround on an express bus of its own.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

As the title implies, redemption lies at the center of Pelecanos's novel as adults try to disentangle themselves from their youthful indiscretions. Some 30 years later, and still bearing the physical scars of those indiscretions, Alex Pappas halfheartedly runs a diner while dealing with the cards life has dealt him when he unexpectedly reunites with his assailants. Though there is potential for forgiveness, one of the assailants is looking to stir up trouble and bring all of them down. Dion Graham delivers a solid performance, providing a smooth-flowing narration with a deep and slightly raspy voice. His inflection and emotional projection help the more sober moments within the story. The only drawback is the similarity of his male characters' voices, which can cause confusion. A Little, Brown hardcover (Reviews, June 30).(Aug.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

In 1972, three white teenagers drive into a solidly African American neighborhood bent on "rais[ing] a little hell." What follows is tragic: one boy is left dead, another scarred for life, and a young African American is in prison. Thirty years later, two survivors of that fated afternoon accidentally reconnect and explore accommodation. But a third party to these past events has more sinister plans. Crime figures prominently in Pelecanos's latest depiction of life in the grittier streets of Washington, DC, but the author of The Night Gardener has always been more than a writer of crime fiction. Like Richard Price (Lush Life) and Dennis Lehane (Mystic River), with whom Pelecanos is often compared, he writes big-hearted novels of life as it is and not as we wish it were. His characters live complicated, often harrowing lives: you care what happens to them. As always, Pelecanos combines generosity of soul with scrupulous attention to detail and an acute sensitivity to the complicated dance of friendship and antagonism between people whose faces wear different colors. A virtue of this fine novel is the author's evident love for his characters, even the lost ones. Enthusiastically recommended for all general collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ4/15/08.]
—David Keymer

Kirkus Reviews
Once again using the ethnic neighborhoods of Washington, D.C., to explore issues of class and race, and the possibility of bridging those gulfs, Pelecanos (The Night Gardener, 2006, etc.) constructs a taut narrative in which the past exerts a seismic pull on the present. The backdrop of the story sends three white teenagers on a reckless 1972 joyride into a black neighborhood, alcohol undermining their better judgment, as they shout racial epithets that ignite retaliation. Black or white, everyone involved finds his life changed (and one ended) because of a mindless clash and its escalation. It isn't until 35 years later that Alex Pappas, who inherited the family's coffee shop from his father and hopes to pass it along to his son, is able to try to reconcile the past with the present, to discover what really happened on that night, to come to terms, to move on. Alex was the boy who had been most reluctant to participate in that fatal joyride, yet he went along rather than resisting. As a surprise visit reopens old wounds, the question is whether a boyhood mistake will continue to haunt him, or whether he can lay the ghosts of the past to rest. "Whatever you did before doesn't matter," says a character. "What matters now is how you make the turnaround." Pelecanos shows the distinction between those capable of making that turnaround and those who can't, while exploring a common humanity that goes deeper than differences of skin color and home turf. Between black and white, there are many shades of gray. Like his kindred spirits who have also written scripts for HBO's The Wire, Pelecanos deserves the sort of popular breakthrough that Richard Price and Dennis Lehane have enjoyed.
Janet Maslin
[Pelecanos] tells a tight, suspenseful story. And he packs enough of a wallop to put THE TURNAROUND on an express bus of its own.
New York Times
Randy Michael Signor
Pelecanos does what few, if any, American writers do: He tells the truth. Twain told the truth; Faulkner toyed with the truth; Hemingway told his version of the truth, and Chandler certainly told a cold, cynical truth. Pelecanos's truth is from deep in the heart, from places where red blood cells know more than all the sweet, heady words truth usually hides behind.
Chicago Sun-Times
Bruce DeSilva
George Pelecanos is one of the most literary of America's crime writers, and like most of his books, THE TURNAROUND is more than mere entertainment. This beautifully written novel, rich with carefully wrought characters, is both a fine crime story and a thoughtful exploration of race relations in the lives of ordinary Americans.
Associated Press
Randy Michael Signor - Chicago Sun-Times
"Pelecanos does what few, if any, American writers do: He tells the truth. Twain told the truth; Faulkner toyed with the truth; Hemingway told his version of the truth, and Chandler certainly told a cold, cynical truth. Pelecanos's truth is from deep in the heart, from places where red blood cells know more than all the sweet, heady words truth usually hides behind."
Bruce DeSilva - Associated Press Staff
"George Pelecanos is one of the most literary of America's crime writers, and like most of his books, THE TURNAROUND is more than mere entertainment. This beautifully written novel, rich with carefully wrought characters, is both a fine crime story and a thoughtful exploration of race relations in the lives of ordinary Americans."
Janet Maslin - New York Times
"[Pelecanos] tells a tight, suspenseful story. And he packs enough of a wallop to put THE TURNAROUND on an express bus of its own."
From the Publisher
PRAISE FOR THE TURNAROUND:


"Yet another gem of urban noir....A beautifully written and thought-provoking novel of crime, friendship, aging and redemption."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"[Pelecanos] tells a tight, suspenseful story. And he packs enough of a wallop to put THE TURNAROUND on an express bus of its own."—Janet Maslin, New York Times

"Pelecanos does what few, if any, American writers do: He tells the truth. Twain told the truth; Faulkner toyed with the truth; Hemingway told his version of the truth, and Chandler certainly told a cold, cynical truth. Pelecanos's truth is from deep in the heart, from places where red blood cells know more than all the sweet, heady words truth usually hides behind."—Randy Michael Signor, Chicago Sun-Times

"George Pelecanos is one of the most literary of America's crime writers, and like most of his books, THE TURNAROUND is more than mere entertainment. This beautifully written novel, rich with carefully wrought characters, is both a fine crime story and a thoughtful exploration of race relations in the lives of ordinary Americans."—Bruce DeSilva, Associated Press

The Barnes & Noble Review
MILLIONS ARE TO BE GRABBED OUT HERE AND YOUR ONLY COMPETITION IS IDIOTS,'' Herman Mankiewicz telegrammed Ben Hecht in 1927 by way of luring him to Hollywood. DON'T LET THIS GET AROUND."

Now that George Pelecanos has made his score writing for HBO's The Wire -- and helped turn out some great television scripts along the way -- it's good to know that he's getting back to his first calling. On a good day, the author of Hell to Pay and Soul Circus is one of the sharpest writers in America -- perhaps the sharpest. And his social passions deepen his reach beyond the cynicism that the underworld milieu of an Elmore Leonard or George Higgins, however expertly rendered, can sometimes reflect all too accurately. A romantic whose characters can quote dialogue from obscure westerns without sounding like Tarantino clones, Pelecanos is devoted to chronicling urban America, the struggle bound up with becoming a good man and why it's worth dedicating yourself to that struggle.

It's an eerie coincidence that the Supreme Court decision to strike down Washington, D.C.'s, gun control law has come the same summer in which his latest book, The Turnaround, appears. In novel after novel, Pelecanos has staked out D.C.'s mean streets, where blacks and whites exist in an unspoken, easily broken truce, as his Yoknapatawpa County. The electric violence in the aftermath of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. was the formative experience of his youth; he returns obsessively to the issues of race and class with the verisimilitude of one who has been there.

Along with Richard Price and Dennis Lehane (both of whom were colleagues of Pelecanos on The Wire, which wound up looking like an employment agency for the best writers in the country), his work has insistently brought home the realities of the urban experience to a fictional landscape too often dominated by the domestic problems of academics or the snarky meta-fiction of young wannabe litterateurs on the make. Of course, the debate between these two schools of writing can be oversimplified: In one corner, the Scotch-swigging, dope-smoking hard guys whose book jacket bios always seem to include a stint as a longshoreman or cabdriver; in the other, the literary heirs of John Updike, exploring thoroughly genteel dilemmas native to life in interchangeable suburban communities. (The fact that a new documentary has come out honoring the questionable legacy of "Dr." Hunter S. Thompson has not helped matters in this regard.)

Like Price, who has dealt with the complex tangle of class and race in Freedomland, Samaritan, and Lush Life, Pelecanos is certainly in the tough-minded, tender-hearted camp. But his work succeeds not merely on the merits of its appointed social and moral landscape but on the sheer quality of the writing -- an achievement repeated, for the most part, in The Turnaround.

The "turnaround" of the title is a metaphor, but it also has a literal reference: a dead end in Heathrow Heights, a black neighborhood where three aimless white high school stoner buddies find themselves trapped, after deciding to show off to each other by taking a joyride and hurling racial epithets at the locals. The consequences are predictably tragic: the driver, Billy Cachoris, is shot to death; Nick Pappas, the novel's working-class protagonist, almost loses an eye; and the third boy, Pete Whitten, flees the scene like a scared rabbit.

The incident marks the end of Pappas's youth -- he abandons his literary dreams to take over his father's Greek restaurant and try to become a better man. Meanwhile, the three black kids involved in the retaliatory strike find their lives incalculably turned around as well. Two go to prison, whereas the third -- the most culpable -- escapes punishment when his older brother decides to take the rap.

The lives of these two groups become intertwined again, through a plot mechanism that seems uncharacteristically creaky: the shooter, Raymond Monroe, who has taken a job as a physical therapist at Walter Reade Hospital as an attempt at atonement, has an accidental encounter with Pappas at the hospital and seeks him out, looking for a way to try to repair the damage in a world gone inescapably wrong. Their rapprochement is complicated by the involvement of Charles Baker, a prison-hardened tough responsible for beating up Pappas, as he attempts to shake down Whitten, now a yuppified lawyer, for "reparations'' after seeing his name in the newspapers. He's a lowlife who could come straight out of the pages of The Friends of Eddie Coyle or Elmore Leonard's Detroit trilogy.

The central theme of The Turnaround seems to be the idea of possibility -- so it feels a little odd that the sections dealing with Baker's lame attempt at a scam have more energy than some of the rest of the book. The prose sometimes feels slack, at least in comparison to the high standard Pelecanos set for himself in books like Nick's Trip, an updated urban homage to The Long Goodbye whose sentences crackle with Raymond Chandler–esque precision, or Soul Circus, in which he subverts the private eye genre into a larger statement about race and character without getting all preachy on us.

"Any Negro who wishes to live must live with danger from his first day, and no experience can ever be casual to him, no Negro can saunter down a street with any real certainty that violence will not visit him on his walk," Norman Mailer wrote in his infamous essay, "The White Negro," in 1957. "The cameos of security for the average white: mother and the home, job and the family, are not even a mockery to millions of Negroes; they are impossible." Unlike Mailer, however, Pelecanos always convinces us that he's at home in his milieu -- he's never slumming. And in The Turnaround, as in his previous works, he's a one-man encyclopedia of the sounds of '70s funk and soul music -- tunes so obviously engraved in his DNA that they eclipse more conventional literary influences.

Music, rebellion, violence, and redemption are all on the table, along with the willingness to entertain a change in the lives of the characters he depicts and in the politics of the nation they -- and we -- live in. All of which fires the hope that Pelecanos might think about moving a step or two outside the comfort zone of the genre fiction in which he has proved himself so expert and make a literary "turnaround" worthy of his extraordinary gifts. That's a sound I'd like to hear. --Paul Wilner

A member of the National Book Critics Circle, Paul Wilner is a contributor to the San Francisco Chronicle and Los Angeles Times Book Review sections, the online magazine obit-mag.com, Publishers Weekly, and the New York Times "Arts and Leisure" section, among other publications.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780316052153
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • Publication date: 9/8/2008
  • Edition description: Large Print
  • Pages: 452
  • Product dimensions: 9.00 (w) x 6.00 (h) x 1.01 (d)

Meet the Author

George Pelecanos is the author of several highly praised and bestselling novels, including The Cut, What It Was, The Way Home, The Turnaround, and The Night Gardener. He is also an independent-film producer, an essayist, and the recipient of numerous international writing awards. He was a producer and Emmy-nominated writer for The Wire and currently writes for the acclaimed HBO series Treme. He lives in Maryland.

Biography

Few writers have employed the mean streets of Washington, D.C. as effectively as George Pelecanos, the award-winning author of two acclaimed detective series and several standalone noirs of exceptional quality.

Pelecanos debuted in 1992, with A Firing Offense, a fast-paced crime novel that introduced Nick Stefanos, a Greek-American advertising executive for an electronics chain who is reluctantly drawn into investigative work when a stock boy at his company goes missing. By book's end, Nick has lost his job and applied for his P.I. license, paving the way for further (mis)adventures. Neverthless, the series has proved anything but predictable. Some books move forward in time to reveal Nick's sad descent into alcoholism; others flash back to investigate his family's past—with Nick relegated to cameo appearances in stories that span several generations and feature a cast of interrelated characters. Beloved by readers and critics alike, the Stefanos books cast unsparing light on a city tragically mired in crime, poverty, and racism.

In his Derek Strange and Terry Quinn series, Pelecanos delves further into the racial and cultural divide between white and black. Beginning with 2001's Right as Rain, these novels feature a "salt and pepper" team of ex-cops turned detectives who forge an uneasy friendship as they investigate cases in the blighted heart of D.C. The very model of noir, the stories are steeped in the violence, brutality, and despair of urban life, but the dynamic between the tough but sensitive Strange and his younger, more volatile partner offers a hopeful and humanizing counterbalance.

A distinguishing characteristic of Pelecanos's writing is an inclusion of musical references to create atmosphere, anchor period settings, and develop his characters' personalities. (His 2004 novel Hard Revolution, a prequel to the Strange/Quinn books, was packaged in limited quantity with a CD of '70s soul music.) Pelecanos has also published mysteries and thrillers, short fiction, reviews and essays, and screenplays for film and television—most notably HBO's superb urban procedural The Wire.

Good To Know

In our interview, Pelecanos shared some interesting anecdotes about past gigs:

"I began to work at my father's lunch counter in downtown D. C. when I was 11 years old, the summer after the riots of April 1968. It was the single most influential experience of my life. Everything I've written about since has seeds in that summer."

"Another good job I had was selling women's shoes, for obvious reasons. Writing for a living isn't bad, either. It beats digging ditches or washing dishes. I know, because I've done those things, too."

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 20 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 2, 2009

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    WHEN THE PAST CANNOT BE BURIED

    Who among us hasn't done something dumb and lived to regret it? Hopefully none of our blunders have been as blindly, irrationally stupid as the act of three young white men, Alex Pappas, Pete Whitten, and Billy Cachoris. Their decision sets the stage for one more haunting, richly configured story by George Pelecanos 'The Night Gardener'. Alex is in the backseat when Pete and Billy decide that a sure cure for their boredom is to go over the tracks into the black area of Washington, D.C., and cause some trouble. They get more than they bargained for when they find themselves in a dead-end facing a tough trio - Charles Baker and brothers Raymond and James Monroe. Perhaps the devil-take-the-hindmost interlopers didn't know that they'd been preceded by other white boys who got their jollies by shouting racial epithets and tossing garbage at residents. Tired of this treatment one of the black boys had something new - a gun. It was fired and lives were irrevocably changed. Skipping ahead decades we find Alex, still bearing the facial scars of that night, has married and taken over his father's lunch business. Raymond had served time for the shooting but is now employed as a Walter Reed Hospital physical therapist. Life had not been kind to Charles nor was he kind to life - he became a full-time dangerous criminal. Pete is now an attorney, and Billy who died that night is long in his grave. Some are trying to forget the past, one wants vengeance. What happens when two who were once enemies meet again? Dion Graham, whom we know from HBO's The Wire, delivers a powerful narration, artfully relating the dreadful night as well as what the years will bring. - Gail Cooke

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 28, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    The Turnaround

    This is the third novel of George Pelecanos that I have read , and it had just confirmed my belief that he is the greatest crime writer today. I really like his crime novels because he doesn't just stick with cops, detectives, or P.I's (not that I don't like these novels, in fact, I love them), but they're about regular people who are pulled into a world of crime. I loved the novel and all I will say is that it's about who an incident involving three white kids and three black kids in the 70's, and how, in the present day, they reform their lives or go on down the wrong path.

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 11, 2008

    This stand alone urban thriller hooks the audience from the opening joyride

    In 1972, three suburban teenage white friends (Alex Pappas, Billy Cachoris and Pete Whitten) are stoned having smoked marihuana and drank alcohol. As high as they ever been, the trio cruises D.C in a Torino stopping in a poor black neighborhood where they challenge three local males (brothers James and Raymond Monroe and Charles Baker). The ensuing brawl leaves Billy dead and Alex severely battered.----------------- In 2007, Alex grieves the loss of his son, a combat casualty in Iraq. He owns and runs the Pappas and Sons Coffee Shop that his father established in 1964. At Walter Reed Raymond Monroe, one of the three blacks involved in the deadly fight, recognizes Alex¿s name. Raymond thinks maybe he can put somewhat behind him the mess that has haunted him for thirty-five years by talking with Alex so he contacts the coffee shop owner Alex too needs clsoure. At about the same time, Baker who destroyed Alex¿s face has just left prison with a plan to blackmail the participants in the ¿72 race war.------------ This stand alone urban thriller hooks the audience from the opening joyride and never let¿s goes as the audience wonders whether Alex and Raymond will find liberation from their overwhelming guilt for their respective roles in the fight or a second war. The key cast members are fully developed so that the reader understands what they need and what they could lose if they risk THE TURNAROUND of redemption and ignore the extortion. George P. Pelecanos writes a great tale that will be on everyone¿s short list for thriller of the year as the DC area has rarely seen as imposing as it does in 1972 and 2007.------------ Harriet Klausner

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 19, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Captivating story

    I attended a book signing on a Sunday when Mr. Pelecanos was in town, and I finished this book after dinner on Tuesday. The characters had depth, and the story was strong and powerful. A definite must-read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 13, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Great Premise

    I'm torn on how to rate this one. On writing alone, Pelecanos is a 5+. He instantly breathes life into his characters. The dialogue has a perfect rhythm and sounds real. He brings more than entertainment, by tackling a difficult topic and never shying away from the dirt within.

    What I had a problem with was the volume of characters and the constant game of leapfrog from one to another. Because there were so many characters, as a reader I was never able to truly latch on to one and invest completely in that person's story. The characters all eventually connected, their lives interweaving in both the past and the present. But the jump in time, combined with the number of characters involved, for me, took away that emotional investment I like to have in a story.

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  • Posted December 19, 2010

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    Not for me

    I only got through the first quarter of this book. The beginning is very slow. I hear it picks up a little from there, and I almost went ahead with it, but I was also a little ooged out by the obscenities. I realize that the obscenities are part of the characters; but those, combined with the slow start, just turned me off.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 7, 2009

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    I Also Recommend:

    Consistently great

    I could go on and on with a review, but I'm not a reviewer so I'd just be making up reasons why I loved this book. So I'll stick with one word: SUPERB. And one phrase: In a League of Its Own.

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