Before You Know Kindness (Bohjalian)

Book Reviews 
An irresistible read. Moving from quiet domestic drama to legal thriller.
Washington Post


A dark psychological dance of family estrangements, lies and self-righteousness...plenty of finely wrought characters and thought-provoking personal and political drama.
Seattle Times


May very well be his best.... Masterly... timely [and] well-wrought.
Boston Globe


Bohjalian's new novel begins with a literal bang: a bullet from a hunting rifle accidentally strikes Spencer McCullough, an extreme advocate for animal rights, leaving him seriously wounded. The weapon-owned by his brother-in-law, John, and shot by his 12-year-old daughter, Charlotte-becomes the center of a lawsuit and media circus led by Spencer's employer, FERAL (Federation for Animal Liberation), a dead ringer for PETA. The many-faceted satire Bohjalian (Midwives, etc.) crafts out of these events revolves around Spencer and Jon's families, but also involves a host of secondary figures. Bohjalian excels at getting inside each character's head with shifts of diction and perspective, though he makes it difficult for readers to connect with any one in particular. This is in part because his portraits are often unsympathetic; the characters are allowed to hoist themselves on their own petards. While some are credibly flawed-Spencer is both a loving father and an obnoxious activist-others are cartoonishly mocked with their own thoughts, like high-powered attorney Paige, who mourns the loss of her leather chairs and briefcases, hidden away for as long as FERAL is a lucrative client. If there is a grounded center to this work, it is 1o-year-old Willow, Spencer's niece, who distinguishes herself from this baggy ensemble by always trying to do the right thing. She alone is spared the narrator's irony, and it is Willow, years after the accident, who has the last word. Bohjalian's skewering of the animal rights movement gets the better of his domestic drama, but his skillful storytelling will engage readers. More like Midwives and Trans-Sister Radio than the recent, more intimate The Buffalo Soldier, this patented blend of social commentary and soul-searching moral drama for the public radio crowd should do well for Bohjalian.
Publishers Weekly


(Starred review) Bohjalian's elegant, refined writing makes even the most ordinary details of family life fascinating, and his characters leap off the pages as very real, flawed, but completely sympathetic human beings. Bohjalian manages to examine some very weighty issues without ever coming off as preachy or pedantic. A triumph. —Kristine Huntley.
Booklist


The privileged summer of a prosperous family is shortened by a bullet in the night. Courteously observing dramatic unities, Oprah-blessed Bohjalian (Midwives, 1997; The Buffalo Soldier, 2002, etc.), America's answer to Joanna Trollope, sees to it that the jammed rifle in the back of Vermont lawyer John Seton's borrowed Volvo goes off to critical effect when it's fired by 12-year-old-going-on-16 Charlotte McCollough into her father's right shoulder. The great irony in this suavely perceptive story is that novice hunter Seton's bullet had been intended for a deer, a deep dark secret hitherto kept from the brutally winged Spencer McCollough, Seton's brother-in-law and the public face of FERAL, an animal activist organization. Spencer has been vegan since repenting of the murder of countless lobsters as a kitchen laborer during his college years, and his dedication to the well being of animals is deep and long-standing. That dedication, Bohjalian politely points out, has not always extended to the animals in his own herd-wife Catherine, a meat-sneaking Brearley instructor, and daughter Charlotte. In fact, his vegetarian rigidities and professional absences have so distressed Catherine that she was ready to discuss separation just before the pot- and beer-befuddled Charlotte fired the rifle at what she thought might be the deer that had ruined that summer's ambitious vegetable garden. Nan Seton, Catherine and John's immensely energetic, capable, and prosperous mother, manages the immediate effects of the crisis, which occurred at her New Hampshire cottage, but she is helpless to patch the rift that develops between the families of her two children when Spencer refuses to forgive his deeplyrepentant brother-in-law and allows FERAL to push for publicity and a lawsuit. The balance of power rests with Charlotte's younger cousin Willow, a real sweetheart who'd shared that spliff with Charlotte hours before the disaster. The finely drawn scenes and characters here will suck in all but the hardest-hearted. Pretty much irresistible.
Kirkus Reviews

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