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Before You Know Kindnessby Chris Bohjalian
Synopses & Reviews
For ten summers, the Seton family — all three generations — met at their country home in New England to spend a week together playing tennis, badminton, and golf, and savoring gin and tonics on the wraparound porch to celebrate the end of the season. In the eleventh summer, everything changed. A hunting rifle with a single cartridge left in the chamber wound up in exactly the wrong hands at exactly the wrong time, and led to a nightmarish accident that put to the test the values that unite the family — and the convictions that just may pull it apart.
Before You Know Kindness is a family saga that is timely in its examination of some of the most important issues of our era, and timeless in its exploration of the strange and unexpected places where we find love.
As he did with his earlier masterpiece, Midwives, Chris Bohjalian has written a novel that is rich with unforgettable characters — and absolutely riveting in its page-turning intensity.
"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.)
"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." Booklist (Starred Review)
"The finely drawn scenes and characters here will suck in all but the hardest-hearted. Pretty much irresistible." Kirkus Reviews
"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." Richard Russo, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Empire Falls
"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." Julia Glass, winner of the National Book Award for Three Junes
"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." Howard Frank Mosher, winner of the New England Book Award for A Stranger in the Kingdom
"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." Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
"Bohjalian elegantly guides readers through a labyrinth of opposing viewpoints in a purposeful narrative that seamlessly blends the personal and the political." San Francisco Chronicle
"[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." BookPage
"Before You Know Kindness may very well be his best....Masterly...timely [and] well-wrought." The Boston Globe
"An irresistible read. Moving from quiet domestic drama to legal thriller." The Washington Post
"A dark psychological dance of family estrangements, lies and self-righteousness...plenty of finely wrought characters and thought-provoking personal and political drama." The Seattle Times
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.
About the Author
Chris Bohjalian is the bestselling author of nine novels, including Midwives (a Publishers Weekly Best Book and an Oprah's Book Club selection), The Buffalo Soldier, and Trans-Sister Radio, as well as Idyll Banter, a collection of his magazine essays and newspaper columns. His work has been translated into seventeen languages and published in twenty countries. He lives in Vermont with his wife and daughter.
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