book review: Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands

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Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands by Chris Bohjalian. Publisher: Doubleday (July 2014). Contemporary fiction. Hardcover. 288 pages. ISBN13: 9780385534833.

In Chris Bohjalian’s 17th novel, there’s been a disaster at a nuclear power plant in Vermont. Sixteen-year-old Emily lost both parents who worked there. Her father as an engineer. Her mother the public relations manager. She’s now homeless and fending for herself in Burlington, Vermont. She’s cutting, taking drugs, stealing and working as a prostitute. Told in first-person, the novel jumps from present to past as Emily contemplates her situation. Choppy sentence structure, cadence. It didn’t flow. Some novels do and some don’t.

I like Chris Bohjalian. He’s a nice guy. He’s a good writer. I cried at the end of my favorite of his novels, Skeletons at the Feast. I also truly enjoyed The Sandcastle Girls, Midwives and Secrets of Eden. He adores Mad Men. He likes cats. I follow him on twitter. I’d hoped to like his latest novel, his 18th. Unfortunately it fell flat for me.

Almost stopped reading with the early use of the word beater on page 58 to describe an article of clothing. I saw it used again on another page. Was shocked. For someone who has written about a lot of female characters and particularly battered women and abusive relationships doesn’t Bohjalian realize that by using beater instead of tank top or some other descriptive (he IS a fiction writer) he’s propagating rape culture and violence against women. “Beater” and “wife beater” need to be removed from our collective vocabulary.

Confused that character says of Emily Blunt: “Like Watson, she’s great at women about to go mental.” I’ve seen most Blunt films and can’t think of one example. I asked Bohjalian about this via twitter and he told me that Emily was thinking of The Devil Wears Prada. Yeah, don’t think so. In comparison to Emily Watson’s characters? No. I adore Emily Blunt and Emily Watson. Guess I want their work accurately represented. I realize this is a fictional teenager’s interpretation but still.

I did not care about Emily and that’s unfortunate. Not enough character development. By the end of the novel I should have been invested in this girl. I felt I knew very little about her except for surface things. She likes Emily Dickinson. She keeps journals. She cuts herself. But who is this girl. I felt there wasn’t enough depth or connection for Emily.

RATING: ***/5

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Doubleday.

purchase at Amazon: Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands: A Novel

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