Chris Bohjalian is the kind of author who tackles timely issues. He crafts his fiction around topics like midwifery or animal rights or sexual identity and then humanizes and fleshes out the topics with characters and plot. Another popular author who does this is Jodi Picoult. I compare these two authors a lot. (Oh, and check out Picoult’s review of this book on Amazon!) Both Bohjalian and Picoult can, at times, be a little heavy-handed, but they both know how to write compelling characters and stories. Bohjalian has a real talent for examining an issue from multiple perspectives. Perhaps this is because Bohjalian also works as a journalist, writing weekly column, “Idyll Banter,” for a Vermont paper, the Burlington Free Press.
I made the mistake of reading Bohjalian’s Midwives when I was pregnant. I say mistake simply because it does feature a particularly horrific home birth scene around which a courtroom drama enfolds. But as a pregnant woman considering home birth, I also appreciated the way in which this man approached the issues of midwifery and birth with real respect, depth and fairness. I thought that he wrote from a woman’s perspective beautifully and truly represented a complex issue from many sides.
In his most recent bestselling novel, The Double Bind, Bohjalian explores the weighty issues of rape, homelessness and mental illness in what turns out to be a psychological mystery. Laurel Estabrook works for a homeless shelter in Vermont and when one of the clients for whom they had found housing dies, leaving behind a sheaf of photographs of famous people, Laurel is asked to curate the photographs for a possible benefit show. But what starts as a work project becomes a dangerous obsession. A photograph of a girl on a bicycle sets Laurel on a hunt that involves her past. For one, it brings up memories of a violent attack on Laurel seven years before on a Vermont bike trail, an attack that has left her emotionally fragile. It also awakens memories from her childhood in West Egg on Long Island, the town where Jay Gatsy and Tom and Daisy Buchanan lived. Wait a minute, aren’t these fictional characters from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby? How can they be real? The Double Bind will surprise you right up to the last pages. Because nothing is as it seems in this book. You can also lead with a question about the significance of the title, which turns out to have some intriguing implications.