Click here to read reviewer Sam Sattler's take on The Turnaround.
In 1972 Washington, D.C., neighborhoods are defined by economic status, race, and the recent riots that have exacerbated a long history of troubles. In Heathrow Heights, an exclusively black area with a proud history, young men struggle to define their futures, some with dreams, others already hopeless.
In another working-class neighborhood, John Pappas owns a small but lucrative diner, content with his establishment and providing for his family, his days structured by early morning deliveries and a predictable routine. His teenaged son, Alex, has been working for John for a few summers, making lunch deliveries, spending his evenings with two friends, smoking pot and drinking beer, riding the streets in search of entertainment.
On one fateful summer night, the three friends make a detour into the Heights, a daring drive-by into an area that is tempting in its unfamiliarity. An aborted attempt at harassment turns ugly right away, culminating in violence that leaves one of the intruders dead, one running into the woods, and Alexís face battered by the boot of one of three targeted black boys, one of them soon to begin a life behind bars that relegates his dreams to a distant memory.
Thwarted by a dead end that prevents easy escape, this stupid action by three stoned white boys is more than just metaphor, a dead end far more significant at the end of the rampage. Billy is dead, Pete in the wind, free from physical harm, and Alex permanently scarred. James Monroe faces years behind bars, a lighter sentence imposed on Charles Barker, who stomped Alexís face, and Jamesís brother, Raymond, avoiding incarceration because of his youth.
Forty years later, James has lost all motivation, unable to overcome his prison experiences. Raymond is a physical therapist at Walter Reed Army Hospital, his son serving in Afghanistan. Charles Barker is inured to a life of violence, resenting a world where he feels he has no place and has always been treated unfairly.
Billy is long buried; Pete lives a charmed life, dedicating good works to the black community. The forever-scarred Alex has taken over the diner after his fatherís untimely death, one of his sons killed in Iraq, the family grieving still. Alex has made peace with his fate, training his remaining son in the business as his own father did so many years before.
Using the night of violence in 1972 to trace the threads of the lives of these teens to their current situations, the author explores the significance of such random stupidity and the damage done to the futures of the participants. With Alex and Raymond as his focus - and the potential for redemption from past mistakes - Pelecanos also examines Barkerís choices, the angry man unable to escape the misfortune that plagued his youth, feeding on dissatisfaction, preying on those who yield to his brutality.
While the others reach toward a resolution of that life-altering event in the Ď70s, Barker remains a threat, injecting himself menacingly into the lives of others. A study on human nature and the consequences of impetuous actions, the author mines the commonality of manís desire to make peace with the past, to set aside the stupidity of youth for the more enduring rewards of honorable lives: ďWhat matters is how you make the turnaround.Ē