Posts Tagged Vermont

book review: Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands


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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book review: Rescue

Title: Rescue
Author: Anita Shreve
Hardcover: 304 pages
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (November 30, 2010)
Category: contemporary fiction
Rating: B-

When Rowan was twelve, Webster told her that her mother had been an alcoholic and that was why she had to go away and get help. He never dreamed that his daughter would see this as her legacy.

Both Anita Shreve and Jodi Picoult have an innate storytelling technique to take current issues/ events and turn them inside out by exploring every angle and all the individuals involved. That’s why I continue to read both authors. In Rescue, Shreve focuses her attention on a dedicated single father and paramedic in Vermont. Peter Webster had a short, turbulent love affair with his daughter’s mother, Sheila, who was an alcoholic. Sheila captivated Webster with her free sprit and Webster attracted Sheila with his stability. When their daughter Rowan is two, Webster sends his wife away after Sheila has another DUI accident with their daughter in the car. At 18, Rowan seems to be going through her own issues in high school and turns to binge drinking. Webster worries so much about Rowan that he considers asking Sheila to return. Shreve does an excellent job with both Sheila and Webster and their reasons for being together. It’s also always interesting to have the father/daughter connection and focus on the father as the single parent. Rowan’s issues with alcohol seem like run-of-the-mill teenage experimentation to me and that’s where Rescue falls a bit flat as the story doesn’t linger in one’s mind after reading as much as some of Shreve’s previous novels.

buy at Amazon: Rescue: A Novel

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book review: Secrets of Eden

Title: Secrets of Eden
Author: Chris Bohjalian
ISBN: 978-0307394972
Pages: 384
Publisher: Shaye Areheart Books; First Edition, First Printing edition (February 2, 2010)
Category: contemporary fiction
Review source: Shaye Areheart Books
Rating: 4/5

Now, Stephen Drew wasn’t using some poor woman’s face as a floor sander, and he wasn’t inflicting himself on some defenseless middle-school girl. (Note I am not being catty and adding “as far as we know.” Because in my opinion, we do know: He wasn’t.) But he certainly abused his place and his power, and he sure as hell took advantage of women in his congregation. For a minister, the guy had ice in his veins. Lived completely alone, didn’t even have a dog or a cat. He really creeped me out once when he went off on this riff about the Crucifixion as a form of execution. Very scholarly, but later it was clear that even his lawyer had wished he’d dialed down the serial-killer vibe.

Author Chris Bohjalian continues to challenge himself and his readers by delving into controversial and provocative topics. Secrets of Eden is a page-turner about domestic violence and what at first appears to be a murder-suicide in a small Vermont hamlet. The story is told from four points of view: from town Pastor Stephen Drew, who remained close to Alice Hayward well after their affair ended; from the well-meaning and dogged prosecutor Catherine Benincasa; from Heather Laurent, a best-selling author who suffered the same thing in her teenage years and now sees Angels; and from the Hayward’s teenage daughter Katie, who witnessed her father beating and verbally abusing her mom for years. As a story-telling technique it works quite well for Secrets of Eden as we gain insight from those intimately involved (Stephen and Katie) as well as an outsider’s perspective (Catherine and Heather). What Bohjalian leaves us with is an exquisitely crafted whodunit as well as an expose on domestic violence and its tragic consequences. A compelling read, Secrets of Eden is truly memorable and a conversation starter.

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