Thursday, July 29, 2010
Secrets of Eden: A Novel
by Chris Bohjalian
Secrets of Eden follows the successful template that Chris Bohjalian has worked off in the past. There is a horrific event centered on difficult subject matter, multiple narrators give their interpretation of the event each adding facts that inform the reader and build the suspense, ending with revelations that were unexpected - usually with gut wrenching detail provided along the way.
This novel takes on domestic abuse and with chilling reality shows the destruction of lives that this abuse triggers. The setting is a small Vermont town; the characters are Stephen Drew a Baptist minister, the Haywards an unhappily married couple with a 15 year old daughter Katie, Catherine Bennicassa the county prosecutor and Heather Laurent an author who has written books about angels. Before the end of the first chapter the Haywards are dead in an apparent murder suicide. I won’t give away any plot details here but each of the four narrators retells the events around the murder/suicide from their point of view.
I thought this was not one of Bohjalian’s finer works. It is not as well constructed as Double Bind (the novel on rape). The characterizations were I thought flat. Stephen Drew, the minister seemed cold and self centered and in the end performed actions that were out of character. The county prosecutor was very stereotyped and not exhibiting any of the passion I’ve come to expect from Bohjalian’s characters. The “angel expert” Heather Laurent was almost extraneous to the story. Katie, the orphaned daughter was the most realistic voice in the novel. The who dunnit was not hard to figure out early in the story, even for me who often is the last to get it! What did work very well in this novel were the scenes of domestic violence and the devasting consequences of this abuse on everyone it touches. This is not the best work of this author, earlier novels in particular Double Bind and Midwives were much better, but I still think Secrets of Eden is worth a read.