When he was a teenager, Steven Schwartz, associate professor of English at Colorado State University, almost ran over a young girl.
"I was with some friends and somehow we got the idea to drag race," Schwartz said. "I had a slower car, so to even things out we decided to race backwards. A friend’s sister came running out into the street behind my car and I missed her by just a few feet. I still get chills on the back of my neck when I think about how close I was to killing her."
David Nachman, the 16-year-old narrator in Schwartz’s new novel, A Good Doctor’s Son, isn’t as lucky. The teenager in the novel agrees to a drag race with friends, but accidentally kills a three-year-old girl. David and the small-town community struggle from that moment on to deal with the horror of the tragedy.
Schwartz will read from his novel 7:30 p.m. Feb. 10 at the Tattered Cover Bookstore in Denver and 7:30 p.m. Feb. 25 at the Boulder Book Store on the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder.
David’s struggle is the central theme of Schwartz’s novel, but the story also explores the era of the 1960s and issues of race, identity, class, faith, and, ultimately, redemption. The novel, set in Schwartz’s hometown of Chester, Pa., took two and a half years to write, but after showing the completed work to his wife, Emily Hammond (author of Breathe Something Nice), Schwartz had to contend with a struggle of his own.
"At first Emily was excited about the novel, but the more she read the more quiet it became in the house. Then she started avoiding me, and I knew I was in trouble with the book." Schwartz soon realized that, out of 460 pages of the draft, only about 40 pages worked. He threw out hundreds of pages and, in six weeks, rewrote the novel.
"I realized I was backing away from the core story," Schwartz said. "After David’s accident, I moved the characters through all this action much too far into the future and didn’t really face the strange survivor’s guilt that David was grappling with.
"It was my job to fully inhabit the character of David, but I wasn’t really doing that because I was afraid of being melodramatic, afraid of confronting David’s demons. So in my revision I listened to David when he said: ‘I just killed a small child. I need to tell my story."’ Schwartz, who has been teaching at Colorado State for 14 years, said that his writing projects typically give him new ideas and inspiration that fuel his teaching.
"You learn something every time you write a sentence, and it’s always fun to share that with students."
Schwartz’s previous works include the novel, Therapy, and two story collections, To Leningrad in Winter and Lives of the Fathers. His fiction has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, the San Francisco Chronicle, Redbook, Ploughshares and the Missouri Review.
He has received the Nelson Algren Award, the Sherwood Anderson Prize and two O. Henry Awards. He was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in 1993.