Monday, July 16, 2007

Bohjalian's newest thrills despite cheap finale

So, after staying up all night reading Mary Higgins Clark's new book (see review below), I picked up Chris Bohjalian's The Double Bind, thinking it would be a more leisurely read. I even told my husband, "Don't worry, this one isn't as exciting as the last one. I won't have to stay up all night reading it." Well, guess what? I was wrong. Although it started out slowly, it turned into an extremely compelling book that I was very reluctant to put down.

It tells the story of Laurel Estabrook, a young social worker, who comes across a box of old photos left behind by a homeless man. The photographs were obviously taken by someone with great expertise, and Laurel becomes obsessed with learning how the homeless man went from successful photojournalist to penniless transient. Her search leads her to the Gatsby Family (yes, the Gatsbys, figments of F. Scott Fitzgerald's imagination), where devastating family secrets abound. The obsession takes its toll on Laurel, already emotionally fragile from a vicious attack she suffered several years earlier. Her friends and family are frightened for her, but she refuses to give up her all-consuming quest for the truth. The ending is a shocker (which I won't give away), but it will change the way you view the whole novel.

Like I said before, the first part of the novel was a little slow. Plus, I was thrown off by the inclusion of the Gatsbys in the story (although it makes sense later in the book). I almost abandoned the whole novel, but out of loyalty to Bohjalian, I stuck with it. I'm glad I did, because it turned into a fast-paced, absorbing read. Once I got over Bohjalian's resurrection of the Gatsbys, I enjoyed the search for their deep, dark family secrets. While I didn't stay up all night, I did finish the book in a day, so deeply was I enthralled with Laurel's story.

My only beef with the book is the ending, which is hard to discuss without ruining the surprise. I can only say that it ruined the story for me, because it felt like such a cheap finale. Also, I'm not sure the clues Bohjalian sprinkled throughout the story really were strong enough to support the ending. It's one of those you-either-love-it-or-you-hate-it kind of things.

Despite the ending, I thought The Double Bind was a great read. It also provides an interesting (though somewhat preachy) perspective on homelessness. Pick it up - you won't be disappointed (except, maybe by the ending).

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