Thursday, September 9, 2010

Julie's Review: Secrets of Eden

Summary: Bohjalian (Law of Similars) has built a reputation on his rich characters and immersing readers in diverse subjects—homeopathy, animal rights activism, midwifery—and his latest surely won't disappoint. The morning after her baptism into the Rev. Stephen Drew's Vermont Baptist church, Alice Hayward and her abusive husband are found dead in their home, an apparent murder-suicide. Stephen, the novel's first narrator, is so racked with guilt over his failure to save Alice that he leaves town. Soon, he meets Heather Laurent, the author of a book about angels whose own parents' marriage also ended in tragedy. Stephen's deeply sympathetic narration is challenged by the next two narrators: deputy state attorney Catherine Benincasa, whose suspicions are aroused initially by Stephen's abrupt departure (and then by questions about his relationship with Alice), and Heather, who distances herself from Stephen for similar reasons and risks the trip into her dark past by seeking out Katie, the Haywards' now-orphaned 15-year-old daughter who puts into play the final pieces of the puzzle, setting things up for a touching twist. Fans of Bohjalian's more exotic works will miss learning something new, but this is a masterfully human and compassionate tale.

Review: It's been a while since I've read a Chris Bohjalian novel and while Secrets of Eden starts a bit slow out of the gate; it doesn't take long to wrap me up in the story. He tells the story of Alice and George Hayward from four separate views: Reverend Stephen Drew, Prosecutor Catherine Benincasa, Heather Laurent and Katie Hayward. Each of these views have their own interest in the story, which makes them great fabricators of the truth. Or telling the truth from their viewpoint which is slightly distorted. Mr. Bohjalian decided to start the novel out with the Reverend's story. It's not that I didn't like Stephen, it's just that I found him a little removed from the situation, when he was really knee deep in it. It's not hard to figure out his relationship with Alice from the get go.

Catherine Benincasa has her heart set on going after Reverend Drew. She thinks he most certainly had something to do with one of the deaths in Haverhill that night. What I want to know is why did she focus on him solely? A lot of people knew what was going on in the Hayward house, so it could have been anyone that saw it fit to take care of the situation.

The least interesting part was Heather Laurent's point of view. I somewhat understand why she was brought into the story, she had a similar experience when she was Katie's age but the whole angel angle threw me off. I just didn't get how they fit into the story. Maybe I'm missing the point.

I thought it was brilliant that Mr. Bohjalian finished the book with Katie. She's the only one that knew what happened in that house on a regular basis and the only one who could lend real insight to the readers. The book comes to the climax in the last 10 pages of the book and the last line is a dozy. I loved it! It made me go back and read those pages again to make sure I fully understood what I just had finished.

I thought Mr. Bohjalian handled the subject of religion and domestic abuse in an honorable fashion. Domestic abuse is never an easy subject to write about and address but he did it with no glossing over. He even addressed the typical "honeymoon" phase. Those of us not in those situations will never know what it is like to be living like that on a daily basis.

While I liked the book, it is definitely not my favorite of his but he definitely knows how to weave a story. To read my favorite Chris Bohjalian  novel,  you will need to pick up The Double Bind. That book still remains on my top 10 books of all time. It blew me away.

Final Take: 3.5/5



Kathy September 9, 2010 at 8:09 AM  

I enjoyed your review of this story. I am right with you that this is not Bohjalian's best. I also reviewed this novel

I found your blog through a nice write up at Roof Beam Reader. Glad I did!

Steph from September 11, 2010 at 8:18 AM  

Chris is such a consistent writer and this was a tough and really emotional topic for him. He did a conf call with my book club and he gets so involved in this issue. His next book is being titled (I believe) The Body Garden. Out next year.

And he is a really nice guy.

Julie September 11, 2010 at 9:54 AM  

Steph - Thanks for the insight. I still liked his book but it wasn't a favorite of mine of his. I can't wait for his next book. He's a writer I always buy.

Tara September 11, 2010 at 11:30 AM  

I really liked your review of this book. It sounds like a very interesting and emotional piece.

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