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Double Bind (Bohjalian)

The Double Bind 
Chris Bohjalian, 2007
Knopf Doubleday
384 pp.
ISBN-13: 9781400031665


Summary
Chris Bohjalian is back with an ambitious new novel that travels between Jay Gatsby’s Long Island and rural New England, between the Roaring Twenties and the twenty-first century.

When college sophomore Laurel Estabrook is attacked while riding her bicycle through Vermont’s back roads, her life is forever changed. Formerly outgoing, Laurel withdraws into her photography and begins to work at a homeless shelter. There she meets Bobbie Crocker, a man with a history of mental illness and a box of photographs that he won’t let anyone see. When Bobbie dies suddenly, Laurel discovers that he was telling the truth: before he was homeless, Bobbie Crocker was a successful photographer who had indeed worked with such legends as Chuck Berry, Robert Frost, and Eartha Kitt. 

As Laurel’s fascination with Bobbie’s former life begins to merge into obsession, she becomes convinced that some of his photographs reveal a deeply hidden, dark family secret. Her search for the truth will lead her further from her old life—and into a cat-and-mouse game with pursuers who claim they want to save her.

In this spellbinding literary thriller, rich with complex and compelling characters—including Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan—Chris Bohjalian takes readers on his most intriguing, most haunting, and most unforgettable journey yet. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio 
Birth—1960
Where—White Plains, New York, USA
Education—Amherst College
Awards—Anahid Literary Award, 2000; New England Book 
  Award, 2002
Currently—lives in Lincoln, Vermont

Christopher Aram Bohjalian, who goes by the pen name Chris Bohjalian, is an American novelist. Bohjalian is the author of 15 novels, including New York Times bestsellers Midwives, Secrets of Eden, The Law of Similars, Before You Know Kindness, The Double Bind, Skeletons at the Feast, and The Night Strangers.

Bohjalian is the son of Aram Bohjalian, who was a senior vice president of the New York advertising agency Romann & Tannenholz. Chris Bohjalian graduated summa cum laude from Amherst College, where he was a member of the Phi Beta Kappa Society. In the mid-1980s, he worked as an account representative for J. Walter Thompson advertising agency in New York.

He and his wife lived in a co-op in Brooklyn until March 1986, when the two were riding in a taxicab in which the driver refused to let them out of the car for 45 minutes, ignoring all traffic lights and stop signs. Around midnight, the driver dropped them off at a near-deserted street in front of a crack house, where the police were conducting a raid and Bohjalian and his wife were forced to drop to the ground for their protection. The incident prompted the couple to move from Brooklyn; Bohjalian said, "After it was all over, we just thought, "Why do we live here?" A few days later, the couple read an ad in The New York Times referencing the "People's Republic of Vermont," and in 1987 the couple moveed to Lincoln, Vermont.

Early career
After buying their house, Bohjalian began writing weekly columns for local newspaper and magazine about living in the small town, which had a population of about 975 residents. The Concord Monitor said of Bohjalian during this period, "his immersion in community life and family, Vermont-style, has allowed him to develop into a novelist with an ear and empathy for the common man." Bohjalian continued the column for about 12 years, writing about such topics as his own daily life, fatherhood and the transformation of America. The column has run in the Burlington Free Press since 1992. Bohjalian has also written for such magazines as Cosmopolitan, Reader's Digest and the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine.

Bohjalian's first novel, A Killing in the Real World, was released in 1988. Almost two decades after it was released, Bohjalian said of the book, "It was a train wreck. I hadn't figured things out yet." His third novel, Past the Bleachers, was released in 1992 and adapted as a Hallmark Channel television movie in 1995.

In 1998, Bohjalian wrote his fifth book, Midwives, a novel focusing on rural Vermont midwife Sibyl Danforth, who becomes embroiled in a legal battle after one of her patients died following an emergency Caesarean section. The novel was critically acclaimed and was selected by Oprah Winfrey as the October 1998 selection of her Oprah's Book Club, which helped push the book to great financial success. It became a New York Times and USA Today bestseller. Victoria Blewer has often described her husband as having "a crush" on the Sybil Danforth character. In 2001, the novel was adapted into a Lifetime Movie Network television film starring Sissy Spacek in the lead role. Spacek said the Danforth character appealed to her because "the heart of the story is my character's inner struggle with self-doubt, the solo road you travel when you have a secret."

Later career
Bohjalian followed Midwives with the 1999 novel The Law of Similars, about a widower attorney suffering from nameless anxieties who starts dating a woman who practices alternative medicine. The novel was inspired by Bohjalian's real-life visit to a homeopath in an attempt to cure frequent colds he was catching from his daughter's day care center. Bohjalian said of the visit, "I don't think I imagined there was a novel in homeopathy, however, until I met the homeopath and she explained to me the protocols of healing. There was a poetry to the language that a patient doesn't hear when visiting a conventional doctor." The protagonist, a father, is based in part on Bohjalian himself, and his four-year-old daughter is based largely on Bohjalian's daughter, who was three when he was writing the book., Liz Rosenberg of The New York Times said the novel shared many similarities with Midwives but that it paled in comparison; Rosenberg said, "Unlike its predecessor, it fails to take advantage of Bohjalian's great gift for creating thoughtful fiction featuring characters in whom the reader sustains a lively interest." Megan Harlan of The Boston Phoenix described it as "formulaic fiction" and said Bohjalian focused too much on creating a complex plot and not enough of complex characterizations. The Law of Similars, like Midwives, made the New York Times bestsellers list.

He won the New England Book Award in 2002, and in 2007 released "The Double Bind," a novel based on Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby.

In 2008, Bohjalian released Skeletons at the Feast, a love story set in the last six months of World War II in Poland and Germany. The novel was inspired by an unpublished diary written by German citizen Eva Henatsch from 1920 to 1945. The diary was given to Bohjalian in 1998 by Henatsch's grandson Gerd Krahn, a friend of Bohjalian, who had a daughter in the same kindergarten class as Bohjalian's daughter. Bohjalian was particularly fascinated by Henatsch's account of her family's trek west ahead of the Soviet Army, but he was not inspired to write a novel from it until 2006, when he read Armageddon: The Battle for Germany, Max Hastings' history of the final years of World War II. Bohjalian was struck not only by how often Henatsch's story mirrored real-life experiences, but also the common "moments of idiosyncratic human connection" found in both. Skeletons of the Feast was considered a departure for Bohjalian because it was not only set outside of Vermont, but set in a particular historical moment.

His 2010 novel, Secrets of Eden, was also a critical success, receiving starred reviews from three of the four trade journals (Booklist, Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly), as well as many newspapers and magazines. It debuted at # 6 on The New York Times bestseller list.

His next novel, The Night Strangers, published in 2011, represents yet another departure for Bohjalian. The is both a gothic ghost story and a taut psychological thriller.

He has written a weekly column for Gannett's Burlington Free Press since February 1992 called "Idyll Banter." His 1,000th column appeared in May 2011.

Personal comments
In a 2003 Barnes & Noble interview, Bohjalian offered up these personal comments:

I was the heaviest child, by far, in my second-grade class. My mother had to buy my pants for me at a store called the "Husky Boys Shop," and still she had to hem the cuffs up around my knees. I hope this experience, traumatizing as it was, made me at least marginally more sensitive to people around me.

I have a friend with Down syndrome, a teenage boy who is capable of remembering the librettos from entire musicals the first or second time he hears them. The two of us belt them out together whenever we're driving anywhere in a car.I am a pretty avid bicyclist. The other day I was biking alone on a thin path in the woods near Franconia Notch, New Hampshire, and suddenly before me I saw three bears. At first I saw only two, and initially I thought they were cats. Then I thought they were dogs. Finally, just as I was approaching them and they started to scurry off the path and into the thick brush, I understood they were bears. Bear cubs, to be precise. Which is exactly when their mother, no more than five or six feet to my left, reared up on her hind legs, her very furry paws and very sharp claws raised above her head in a gesture that an optimist might consider a wave and guy on a bike might consider something a tad more threatening. Because she was standing on a slight incline, I was eye level with her stomach—an eventual destination that seemed frighteningly plausible. I have never biked so fast in my life in the woods. I may never have biked so fast in my life on a paved road.

I do have hobbies—I garden and bike, for example—but there's nothing in the world that gives me even a fraction of the pleasure that I derive from hanging around with my wife and daughter.

He lives with his wife and daughter in Lincoln, Vermont, where he is active in the local church and the Vermont theater community—always off-stage, never on.

Writing style
Bohjalian novels often focus on a specific issue, such as homelessness, animal rights and environmentalism, and tend to be character-driven, revolving around complex and flawed protagonists and secondary characters. Bohjalian uses characteristics from his real life in his writings; in particular, many of his novels take place in fictional Vermont towns, and the names of real New Hampshire towns are often used throughout his stories. Bohjalian said, "Writers can talk with agonizing hubris about finding their voices, but for me, it was in Vermont that I discovered issues, things that matter to me." His novels also tend to center around ordinary people facing extraordinarily difficult situations resulting from unforeseen circumstances, often triggered by other parties. (From Wikipedia.)



Book Reviews 
Artfully crafted, terrifying. . .Bohjalian has written a literary thriller. . .Laurel is an unforgettable, vulnerable, complicated character, as is Crocker. . .The pictures blur the line between reality and fiction, as photos so often do, making reality seem an even more precarious and dizzying height from which to read a work of fiction.
Susan Salter Reynolds - The Los Angeles Times


The idea of the invented self hovers over Gatsby. Jay Gatsby, we remember, begins an unpromising life as James Gatz and is murdered for a crime he does not commit. Bohjalian, too, is interested in the gray area between hope and delusion, in how people are shaped by the events of their lives and the efforts they make to hold the self inviolable against fate and harm. As Nick Carraway concludes, the past is powerfully present in the future, and Laurel's investigations into Bobbie Crocker's life lead her inevitably into her own history. Some readers may reach the end and feel blindsided rather than enlightened, but The Double Bind describes just how circuitous that inescapable journey can be.
Carrie Brown - The Washington Post


Laurel Estabrook, a young social worker living in Vermont, becomes obsessed with a box of photographs that belonged to a deceased homeless man, Bobbie Crocker. An amateur photographer herself, Laurel wonders how someone as destitute as Crocker came to possess such high-quality photos, many of them featuring famous people and, bizarrely, Laurel's childhood town. As she devotes more and more time to researching Crocker's past, her friends and family become concerned for her mental well-being. Six years previously, Laurel was attacked by two men in the woods while riding her bike, and though she recovered enough to finish college and get a job, she remains fragile. Bohjalian, whose Midwiveswas an Oprah Book Club selection, adds original and creative elements to this tale by blending the story of The Great Gatsbywith Laurel's story and including photographs by a real-life homeless man named Bob Campbell. Far from being simply a mystery story, this is a complex exploration of the human psyche and its efforts to heal and survive in whatever manner possible. Recommended for all fiction collections.
Library Journal


Psychological thriller, crime novel and "what-if" sequel to The Great Gatsby-with significant twists. Schizophrenic, yes, and alcoholic-but Bobbie Crocker isn't your stereotypical street person. Bohjalian (Before You Know Kindness, 2004, etc.) invests him with mystery; when he dies in Burlington, Vt., he leaves behind photographs from 1960s issues of Life magazine. Eartha Kitt, Dick Van Dyke, Muddy Waters-they're celebrity shots he took, combined with elegant evocations of Jazz Age Long Island. Laurel Estabrook, social worker at Crocker's shelter, discovers something else among them: a snapshot of herself riding a bike, just as she had, seven years before, when savaged by two thugs. The attack scarring her, she'd retreated into PTSD therapy, affairs with comforting, if noncommittal, father figures and a life less of ambition than service. Crocker's photos provide Laurel clues to their strangely interconnected pasts-and she sets out to decode them. Had the homeless man actually been to the manor born, son of Tom and Daisy Buchanan of fabled West Egg? His sister denies it, having spent most of her 70 years trying to whitewash her parents' reputation-Tom's brutality and Daisy's suspicious involvement in the car crash that killed one of his lovers. Had those wealthy, morally bankrupt parents caused Bobbie's "double bind," provoking schizophrenia by instilling in an unwanted child love/hate mixed messages? Or could Bobbie's father be someone yet more notorious, the darkly glamorous star of Fitzgerald's masterpiece? And why was Laurel's own likeness found in Crocker's cache? Sleuthing obsessively, she discovers that Bobbie had a son himself, a boy who grew up toterrify his father. And terrify her. Conflating literary lore, photographic analysis and meditations on homelessness and mental illness, Bohjalian produces his best and most complex fiction yet.
Kirkus Reviews



Discussion Questions 
1. The Double Bind was inspired by the photographs of Bob "Soupy" Campbell, who, as Chris Bohjalian explains in his Author's Note, "had gone from photographing luminaries from the 1950s and 1960s to winding up at a homeless shelter in northern Vermont." While the novel's character, Bobbie Crocker, is entirely fictitious, the photographs in The Double Bind are Campbell's actual work. What do they add to the narrative?

2. Discuss the book's treatment of homelessness. Did The Double Bind change your thoughts and views on the plight of the homeless in America? If so, how?

3. Bohjalian seamlessly meshes the world of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby with that of his own novel. Did you recognize elements of Fitzgerald's fiction as you read The Double Bind? Did you find the appearance of characters from another work of fiction intriguing?

4. Why does Bohjalian connect his novel to The Great Gatsby? What themes does Fitzgerald's novel share with The Double Bind? What influence does the past exert on the characters in both novels?

5. In what ways is Dan Corbett's tattoo in The Double Bind reminiscent of the billboard that overlooks the Valley of Ashes in The Great Gatsby? Is there other imagery in the novel that echoes Fitzgerald's symbolism?

6. We learn from Laurel that the phrase "double bind" refers to Gregory Bateson's theory that "a particular brand of bad parenting could inadvertently spawn schizophrenia." What else might the title of the book refer to?

7. Why do you think Laurel, as the author writes, allowed Talia to "remain a part of her life when she consciously exiled herself from the rest of the herd"?

8. How does Laurel's imagined life for Bobbie reflect her own preoccupations, problems, and needs?

9. The Double Bind ends with a shocking revelation. Did you see clues to this development earlier in the story? Did you find yourself reviewing the novel or rereading it to search for them?

Further reading: F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby.
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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