Book Review: The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian

When I googled Chris Bohjalian, I discovered that he’s quite a successful writer and that one of his other novels, Midwives, was an Oprah’s Book Club selection.  I also found out that most people think The Double Bind is his worst novel!  I have a couple of suggestions that might make your reading more pleasurable, but first a quick summary on what the book is actually about:
Laurel is a young social worker who’s employed by the local homeless shelter in Burlington, Vermont.  At the start of the novel, we relive Laurel’s memories of being attacked by two men on a rural road during a solo bike ride.  As Laurel heals emotionally from the violent incident, she comes across a set of photos from a recently deceased client of the shelter which might connect the old man to her past in some very mysterious ways.

Tips to make your reading more enjoyable and other reasons to give the novel a shot:

  1. Read The Great Gatsby by Fitzgerald first.  In Bohjalian’s story, The Great Gatsby is actual reality, not just a book.  Laurel believes the old photographer is related to one of the families portrayed in Gatsby.  Fitzgerald’s novel actually becomes a character of sorts in The Double Bind.
  2. A big ‘twist’ awaits you if you manage to make your way to the end of the novel.  Granted, the twist becomes fairly predictable along the way, but perhaps you will be fooled!  Also, the twist gets a bit wonky in relation to the third person narrative – the point of view is generally the largest point of contention with many readers – but I kind of like what the author did.  I wish I could say more, but don’t want to spoil the ending.
  3. The book is plotted fairly well and who doesn’t love a good literary mystery?

On the downside, the writing isn’t superb.  I HATE/LOATHE/DETEST impersonal descriptors – such as referring to Laurel as ‘the social worker’ five thousand times.  Surely, Bohjalian can do better than that.  I also found fault with Bohjalian’s portrayal of Laurel.  I’m just not sure a man is capable of honestly writing from a woman’s perspective, especially a woman who is tormented by a brutal, physical and emotional attack perpetrated by males.  That being said, the setting is beautiful, the story is intriguing, and there are PICTURES!

Star Rating – 3/5


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