Synopses & Reviews
Throughout his career, Chris Bohjalian has earned a reputation for writing novels that examine some of the most important issues of our time. With Midwives
, he explored the literal and metaphoric place of birth in our culture. In The Buffalo Soldier
, he introduced us to one of contemporary literature’s most beloved foster children. And in Before You Know Kindness
, he plumbed animal rights, gun control, and what it means to be a parent.
Chris Bohjalian’s riveting fiction keeps us awake deep into the night. As The New York Times has said, “Few writers can manipulate a plot with Bohjalian’s grace and power.” Now he is back with an ambitious new novel that travels between Jay Gatsby’s Long Island and rural New England, between the Roaring Twenties and the twenty-first century.
When college sophomore Laurel Estabrook is attacked while riding her bicycle through Vermont’s back roads, her life is forever changed. Formerly outgoing, Laurel withdraws into her photography and begins to work at a homeless shelter. There she meets Bobbie Crocker, a man with a history of mental illness and a box of photographs that he won’t let anyone see. When Bobbie dies suddenly, Laurel discovers that he was telling the truth: before he was homeless, Bobbie Crocker was a successful photographer who had indeed worked with such legends as Chuck Berry, Robert Frost, and Eartha Kitt.
As Laurel’s fascination with Bobbie’s former life begins to merge into obsession, she becomes convinced that some of his photographs reveal a deeply hidden, dark family secret. Her search for the truth will lead her further from her old life—and into a cat-and-mouse game with pursuers who claim they want to save her.
In this spellbinding literary thriller, rich with complex and compelling characters—including Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan—Chris Bohjalian takes readers on his most intriguing, most haunting, and most unforgettable journey yet.
From the Hardcover edition.
When Laurel Estabrook is attacked while riding her bicycle through Vermonts back roads, her life is forever changed. Formerly outgoing, Laurel withdraws into her photography, spending all her free time at a homeless shelter. There she meets Bobbie Crocker, a man with a history of mental illness and a box of photographs that he wont let anyone see. When Bobbie dies, Laurel discovers a deeply hidden secret-a story that leads her far from her old life, and into a cat-and-mouse game with pursuers who claim they want to save her. In a tale that travels between the Roaring Twenties and the twenty-first century, between Jay Gatsbys Long Island and rural New England, bestselling author Chris Bohjalian has written his most extraordinary novel yet.
In this spellbinding literary thriller, rich with complex and compelling characters, the "New York Times" bestselling author of "Midwives" and "Before You Know Kindness" takes readers on his most intriguing, most haunting, and most unforgettable journey yet.
About the Author
CHRIS BOHJALIAN is the critically acclaimed author of ten novels, including Midwives (a Publishers Weekly Best Book and an Oprahs Book Club selection) and his most recent New York Times bestseller, Before You Know Kindness. His work has been translated into eighteen languages and published in twenty-one countries. He lives with his wife and daughter in Vermont.
From the Hardcover edition.
Reading Group Guide
“Bohjalian is a master of literary suspense. . . . [His]
are the sorts of books people stay awake all night to finish.” —The Washington Post Book World
The questions and discussion topics that follow are intended to enhance your group's discussion of Chris Bohjalian's The Double Bind.
1. Chris Bohjalian begins the novel with a very matter-of-fact description of a brutal attack. Later in the novel, he writes about Laurel, “She preferred black and white [photography] because she thought it offered both greater clarity and deeper insight into her subjects. In her opinion, you understood a person better in black and white” [p. 37]. Compare Laurel's analysis of photography to the writing style of the author, particularly in the prologue.
2. Bohjalian introduces the world of The Great Gatsby seamlessly into his characters' lives, and Fitzgerald's themes resonate deeply within The Double Bind: the death of the American Dream, repeating the past, and self-reinvention, to name a few. Discuss how each author (Fitzgerald and Bohjalian) explores these themes, and examine any others that stood out for you.
3. In a feat of narrative turnaround, The Double Bind ends with a shocking revelation. Did you find yourself reviewing the novel or rereading it to experience it anew? Did you find the treatment of F. Scott Fitzgerald's characters to be more or less significant in light of the revelation?
4. Discuss Bohjalian's treatment of homelessness, both as a reality and as an abstraction or social issue. Did The Double Bind change your thoughts and views on the plight of the homeless in America? If so, how?
5. Why did Laurel, as the author writes, allow Talia to “remain a part of her life when she had consciously exiled herself from the rest of the herd” [p. 134]?
6. We learn from Bohjalian that the phrase “double bind” is a psychiatric term for a “particular brand of bad parenting [that] could inadvertently spawn schizophrenia” [p. 215]. What else, in light of Laurel's history, might the title of the book refer to?
7. Is Laurel's imagined life for Bobbie—and all his psychiatric problems—a way for her to express her own psychotic break? Is the Bobbie Crocker that the reader gets to know really a facet of Laurel's personality?
8. Through most of the book the reader believes, along with Laurel, that she escaped certain rape-and that her ability to hold on to her bike saved her. But after the attack, she gives up biking. Discuss the play between the conscious and subconscious mind—a delicate balance that must have underlined all of Laurel's actions—in this abandonment of the very thing she'd convinced herself was her savior.
9. In what ways is Dan Corbett's tattoo of the devil as a skull with horns reminiscent of the billboard of the pair of eyes that overlooks the Valley of Ashes in The Great Gatsby? Is there other imagery in the novel that echoes Fitzgerald's tropes?
10. “For the first time, [Katherine] began to wonder if she'd made a serious mistake when she'd given Laurel that box of old photos” [p. 150]. Were the photos the catalyst for Laurel's downfall? Would Laurel have eventually suffered a similar psychological breakdown without the introduction of the photos?
11. How was Laurel able to block out what really happened to her when she carried real physical scars of the mutilation to remind her of it? Were there clues in the narrative that part of her did know what happened all along?
12. Laurel suffered a horrendous attack and managed to go on to do great work for the most neglected members of society. Does her breakdown have a negating effect on the seemingly heroic work that came before it? Why or why not?