Chris Bohjalian

"The Double Bind"

(Reviewed by Eleanor Bukowsky MAR 1, 2008)

Chris Bohjalian's The Double Bind is the story of Laurel Estabrook, a twenty-six year old social worker who assists the homeless at BEDS (the Burlington Emergency Dwelling and Shelter) in Vermont. Laurel has never completely recovered from a brutal attack that she suffered seven years earlier. Although she has a job and a boyfriend, Laurel has unresolved emotional issues; she still feels the anguish, helplessness, and raw pain of that horrible assault.

This book is something of a departure for the gifted Bohjalian. Although he has always explored personal tragedies and rocky relationships, here the author goes one step further. He incorporates elements of Fitzgerald's classic novel of the Jazz Age, "The Great Gatsby," into his plot. An eighty-two year old homeless man named Bobbie Crocker is brought to Laurel's shelter. In his younger days, Bobbie had been a gifted photographer who may have been Daisy and Tom Buchanan's rebellious and mentally ill son. Laurel, who knows a great deal about photography, tries to help Bobbie, and she subsequently becomes obsessed with his photographs. When she researches his life and interviews his acquaintances, Laurel discovers that she and Bobbie may have met before under very different circumstances.

The Double Bind has elements of three genres: mystery, psychological suspense, and literary thriller. Bohjalian's balancing act works fairly well, although the middle section of the book should have been trimmed a bit to make the narrative tighter. However, the author powerfully explores the haunting world of the homeless and the mentally ill, and he skillfully draws us into the lonely world of those unfortunate people whom society fears and rejects.

Other notable characters include Talia Rice, Laurel's compassionate and funny best friend and roommate, and David Fuller, Laurel's forty-four year old boyfriend, who treats his much younger girlfriend with thinly veiled condescension. Pamela Buchanan Marshfield, Daisy and Tom Buchanan's daughter, is an arrogant and selfish woman who clashes with Laurel over Bobbie's photos. Bobbie and his homeless friends are all non-threatening individuals who try to maintain some semblance of dignity in spite of the circumstances that laid them low. Bohjalian makes the point that anyone, no matter how privileged or humble by birth, can wind up on the streets. For some people, life is "one long no-win proposition."

The most surprising part of the book is the shocker of an ending, which will leave some readers feeling manipulated, while others (and I count myself among them) will be impressed by the author's cleverness and imagination. Whatever your reaction is to The Double Bind, I feel certain that you will not soon forget it.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 335 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from The Double Bind at the author's site

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About the Author:

Chris BohjalianChris Bohjalian grew up in and around New York City. He graduate from Amherst College in Massachusetts.

His novel Midwives was a number one New York Times bestseller, a selection of Oprah's Book Club, a Publishers Weekly "Best Book," and a New England Booksellers Association Discovery pick. His work has been translated into 18 languages, been published in 21 countries, and twice become acclaimed movies. He won the New England Book Award in 2002.

He has written for a wide variety of magazines, including Cosmopolitan, Reader's Digest, and the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine, and has been a Sunday columnist for Gannett's Burlington Free Press since 1992.

He lives in Lincoln, Vermont with his wife (photographer Victoria Bluer) and their daughter. About Us | Subscribe | Review Team | History | ©1998-2014