East Breed’s, Pennsylvania is the sort of blue-collar town that simmers with barely concealed prejudices. One Friday night, in the parking lot of a chain restaurant, a brutal fight breaks out 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 St. Brendan’s student, is severely brain-damaged. Haunting and heartbreaking, Aftermath portrays the lasting effects of that night: Casey loses his job and is determined to discover what led to the fight. Lea, Colin’s mother, hopes to reclaim her remote and defiant son. And both of them are drawn to a girl who seems to have played a larger role in Colin’s life than anyone knew.
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.Kirkus Reviews
Shawver 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.)Publishers Weekly
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)
Powerful and moving. . . . An impressive story of loss and love.The Kansas City Star
Compelling. . . . A thoughtful and thought-provoking novel about class and class conflict in small-town Pennsylvania.Courier-Post (New Jersey)
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