Thursday, April 22, 2010

Book Review: Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian

After thoroughly enjoying Chris Bohjalian's Secrets of Eden a few audiobooks ago I thought I'd circle back and listen to another of his novels. I chose "Double Bind" for no other reason as it appeared at the top of the search results for "Chris Bohjalian" on

This was another Vermont book - set in Chittenden County. Burlington and Underhill are heavily featured as is an organization called "BEDS" based loosely on the local not for profit "COTS" - The Committee on Temporary Shelter.

The character of "Bobby Crocker" was inspired by real-life Bob "Soupy" Campbell who until his death was a homeless man in Burlington. Soupy died without family, after his death COTS found hundreds of amazing photographs. Soupy had been a talented photographer - but no one knew until after he had passed - and in this bleeding heart liberal kinda town (Burlington, VT) it was ironic that Soupy's work was finally published after his lonely death.

Mr. Bohjalian is quick to point out that while the photographs in the book (I had to track down a paper copy to see them) are Soupy's work - the character of Bobby Crocker is fictional. Soupy is not Bobby Crocker.

The main character is Lauren, the likable daughter of a generous Rotarian and a graduate of UVM who fell into social work quite accidentally, after she was attacked and nearly murdered on a back country road while mountain biking (many years prior). After the attack Lauren gives up biking and rediscovers swimming, in the process she meets fellow UVM graduate and BEDS founder Catherine. Naturally (though a bit of a cliche), Lauren enters social work and ultimately serves the clients of BEDS. It is at BEDS where Lauren meets Bobby Crocker, and after Bobby's death the staff  discovers his collection of photographs. Catherine asks Lauren to take charge of the photographs and negatives with the thought of putting together a benefit exhibition. Lauren traces Bobby's life - desperate to put answers to her own role in the homeless man's life and how he (and his camera) came to be on the very road on the very day that she was attacked years ago.

The backup characters are equally charming and the story is smooth and enjoyable. In what I'm now expecting from Chris Bohjalian, the plot is so expertly weaved together that as a reader I expected the end of the novel to resolve in one direction - yet the ending is a complete surprise. I generally feel like I can figure out where an author is going before they get there themselves - but twice now Mr. Bohjalian has caught me by surprise-  but all is revealed in the end. The end is as satisfying - perhaps more so - than how I expected the plot to resolve.

As an interesting point, Mr. Bohjalian resurrects the fictional character "The Great Gatsby" as a real-life character in the story. A fictional character sampled in another fictional character  - clever. And when you get to that final twist and plot resolution - it's brilliant!

Chris Bohjalian's "Double Bind" is published by Books on Tape and narrated by Susan Denacker. "Double Bind" was released on January 18, 2007 and is available in both unabridged and abridged formats. The abridged format runs 6 hours 27 minutes and the unabridged version (reviewed here) runs 11 hours and 27 minutes. Double Bind is available from Amazon and There were a few moments where I felt like the plot was running a little long - but my perception changed after listening to the end - and I'd be concerned that removing 5 hours of the plot (the abridged version) just won't have the same magic. I suggest listening to or reading the unabridged version of "Double Bind".

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Helpful blog, bookmarked the website with hopes to read more!