Wendy Robards, May 31, 2008 (view all comments by Wendy Robards)
The Seton and McCullough families are close…and every year they meet in New Hampshire at matriarch Nan Seton’s summer home to spend Memorial Day weekend together. Nan is in her seventies but “vigorous,” and her constant activity (whether it be swimming, golfing or mowing the lawn) drives these family reunions. But when thirteen year old Charlotte finds her Uncle John’s deer hunting rifle and discharges it into the garden on the last day of July, everything changes.
In the opening paragraphs of Chris Bohjalian’s novel Before You Know Kindness, the reader learns that Charlotte’s father, Spencer McCullough - a fanatical vegan animal rights activist - is on the receiving end of his daughter’s shot into the dark. Seriously injured with a crippling arm injury, he is forced to re-examine his life and priorities…and the repercussions of that night will reverberate throughout the family.
Bohjalian is one of my favorite writers because he is skilled at creating gripping story lines and delving deep into his characters’ psyches. In Before You Know Kindness, Bohjalian examines the cracks which lie beneath the surface of a family, and how those cracks can become deep fissures on the heels of one tragic event. Thematically, the novel explores the political argument of gun control and animal rights…and on a more personal level, deals with the ideas of secrets, narcissism, and family relationships.
As a physical therapist, I was pulled into the psychological tension of the novel which develops as a result of a physically devastating accident - how does a person deal with a life-altering disability which has the power to either strengthen or destroy relationships? All of us have the choice to be angry or forgiving in the face of tragedy - what is it that makes us chose one over the other?
Bohjalian’s prose is honest, searing and compelling. Before You Know Kindness is ultimately a story of redemption and the power of forgiveness.
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Vintage Books USA -
"Publishers Weekly Review"
by Publishers Weekly,
"Bohjalian's new novel begins with a literal bang: a bullet from a hunting rifle accidentally strikes Spencer McCullough, an extreme advocate for animal rights, leaving him seriously wounded. The weapon — owned by his brother-in-law, John, and shot by his 12-year-old daughter, Charlotte — becomes the center of a lawsuit and media circus led by Spencer's employer, FERAL (Federation for Animal Liberation), a dead ringer for PETA. The many-faceted satire Bohjalian (Midwives, etc.) crafts out of these events revolves around Spencer and Jon's families, but also involves a host of secondary figures. Bohjalian excels at getting inside each character's head with shifts of diction and perspective, though he makes it difficult for readers to connect with any one in particular. This is in part because his portraits are often unsympathetic; the characters are allowed to hoist themselves on their own petards. While some are credibly flawed — Spencer is both a loving father and an obnoxious activist — others are cartoonishly mocked with their own thoughts, like high-powered attorney Paige, who mourns the loss of her leather chairs and briefcases, hidden away for as long as FERAL is a lucrative client. If there is a grounded center to this work, it is 10-year-old Willow, Spencer's niece, who distinguishes herself from this baggy ensemble by always trying to do the right thing. She alone is spared the narrator's irony, and it is Willow, years after the accident, who has the last word. Bohjalian's skewering of the animal rights movement gets the better of his domestic drama, but his skillful storytelling will engage readers. Agent, Yellow Barn Books. (Oct.) " Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
by Booklist (Starred Review),
"Bohjalian's elegant, refined writing makes even the most ordinary details of family life fascinating, and his characters leap off the pages as very real, flawed, but completely sympathetic human beings....A triumph."
by Kirkus Reviews,
"The finely drawn scenes and characters here will suck in all but the hardest-hearted. Pretty much irresistible."
by Richard Russo, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Empire Falls,
"Chris Bohjalian's many fans will be glad to know he's back on the high wire, expertly balancing topical issues with the more timeless concerns of the human heart. His well-drawn, sympathetic characters deepen and intensify the novel's gripping plot rather than simply serving it. Before You Know Kindness is smart, first-rate storytelling."
by Julia Glass, winner of the National Book Award for Three Junes,
"Once again, Chris Bohjalian dares to tackle the complexities — and complacencies — of modern society at its most vulnerable spot, where the personal clashes with the political, where the private is forced to go public. And once again, he forges a drama that will keep his readers on the edge of their seats...perhaps their conscience as well."
by Howard Frank Mosher, winner of the New England Book Award for A Stranger in the Kingdom,
"Chris Bohjalian's magnificent new novel, Before You Know Kindness, is the best work of fiction I've read about an American family since Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club. It is one of the funniest, best-written, most compassionate, most engaging, and flat-out most enjoyable novels I've ever read."
by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel,
"Bohjalian has had much success in the past, including a selection as an Oprah Book Club author. Before You Know Kindness is better than anything he's written before."
by San Francisco Chronicle,
"Bohjalian elegantly guides readers through a labyrinth of opposing viewpoints in a purposeful narrative that seamlessly blends the personal and the political."
"[A]bsorbing....Bohjalian effectively draws the reader into the inner lives of every family member, each of whom is dealing with the tragic event in his or her own unique way."
by The Boston Globe,
"Before You Know Kindness may very well be his best....Masterly...timely [and] well-wrought."
by The Washington Post,
"An irresistible read. Moving from quiet domestic drama to legal thriller."
by The Seattle Times,
"A dark psychological dance of family estrangements, lies and self-righteousness...plenty of finely wrought characters and thought-provoking personal and political drama."
Chris Bohjalian, bestselling author of Midwives, presents his most ambitious and multi-layered novel to date — examining wildly divisive issues in today's America with his trademark emotional heft and spellbinding storytelling skill.
On a balmy July night in New Hampshire a shot rings out in a garden, and a man falls to the ground, terribly wounded. The wounded man is Spencer McCullough, the shot that hit him was fired?accidentally? — by his adolescent daughter Charlotte. With this shattering moment of violence, Chris Bohjalian launches the best kind of literate page-turner: suspenseful, wryly funny, and humane.
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