The Reconstructionist follows the main character, Ellis, who is a bit lost after graduating college as an engineer. His half-brother died when he was younger in a car accident close to their home and Ellis heard the accident. Hearing accidents was commonplace where they lived; however, when Ellis went to the accident scene, as he often did after hearing one, he realized it involved his brother and his brother’s girlfriend who he had a secret crush on. Many years later, Ellis runs into his brother’s girlfriend, Heather, and she gets him a job as an accident reconstructionist with her husband, Boggs. Boggs and Heather have a troubled relationship and Ellis and Heather, shortly after meeting, begin an affair. When Boggs learns of the affair, he disappears and, in response, Ellis begins a journey to find him leaving his job and Heather behind.
I like how Nick Arvin uses dialogue as a teaching tool for the reader on the difficult subject of accident reconstruction. Arvin is able to help the reader understand the intricacies that go along with trying to find out exactly what happened in an accident. For example, Ellis explains the process of crush energy to a lawyer he is working for on a particular accident. Through explaining to another character how the different processes work, the reader is better able to understand as well.
I also like how the character, Ellis, notices minute details everywhere he goes such as skid marks on the road even when it doesn’t pertain to his work. His work has become a part of him even in his off time. However, the novel overall has too many details. They are often list like, unnecessary to the story, and become a major distraction. The use of so much detail also slows the pace of the novel and takes away from the impact it could have on the reader. I found myself skipping over paragraphs that were laden with unnecessary details.
Something else that was problematic for me with the novel was the character development. None of the characters felt real to me. The dialogue seemed forced and unrealistic. The emotions seemed muted in places where emotions should be running high and running high in situations that would not call for an emotional response. Instead of feeling like I was part of the story as it unfolded, I felt like I was being told the story. I did not feel empathetic towards the characters and was not invested enough in them. I believe the overabundance of details contributed to this. Instead of getting pertinent details on the characters interiority, the reader is given details on what a town looks like, what stores are in the town, what a character bought at a store. For example, on page 187, Ellis walks into a hotel room and we get this description:
He stepped into the room and frigid air gripped him; mounted into the opposite wall was a roaring air-conditioner unit. Next to it stood a sliding glass door onto the balcony. A watery green-and-blue wallpaper flowed from the ceiling to a plum-colored carpet bearing a history of spills and heels. A bed covered by a polyester blanket, two wooden side tables, a dresser, a desk, and two hardback desk chairs crowded against one another. On the dresser stood a TV, and over the bed hung a little framed picture of a jumping swordfish – it looked as if it had been cut from a magazine.
This would be fine if it happened intermittently throughout the novel, but this kind of detail occurs again and again. It would be better if the details were given through some sort of character action rather than given in list-like fashion as above.
Another issue that contributed to the lack of connection with the characters was the behaviors of the characters that were not consistent with what we knew of them. For example, Ellis is involved in an accident that severely disables him emotionally and psychologically. He replays this accident when he drives and it causes a lot of anxiety for him. However, right after he starts driving again, he goes to a bar, drinks, even mentions the effect of the alcohol because he hasn’t eaten all day, and then proceeds to get into his van and drive! It seems unbelievable to me that someone as anxiety-ridden about accidents (including the one he was just in) as Ellis, who also works as an accident reconstructionist, would get drunk and drive. There are other inconsistencies with the characters that I don’t want to mention so I don’t give too much information about the content of the novel to those who have not read it yet, but they are problematic to the suspension of disbelief necessary in a novel.
I liked the subject matter of the novel. Accident reconstruction is a topic that is fascinating, but that little of us know about. There were great details given at different accident scenes and I would have liked to see more of those details included. I liked how the search for Boggs included Ellis revisiting different accidents scenes they had worked on together and how they tried to make logical sense out of something that seems so random. I think these scenes could have been developed even further and, as such, they would have had a bigger impact on the reader and brought forth the larger question of what accidents mean to us. Why do they occur? Are they just random occurrences or is someone always at fault? Are we truly just at the wrong place at the wrong time or is there a larger force at play in our lives? These are the questions that many of us struggle with, especially those of us who have had our lives completely transformed in an instant by an accident whether for the better or for the worse.