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When Bad Things Happen, are the Good People Still Good?: The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian (no spoilers)

cover imageThe Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian missed the mark for me, personally, but it would be a good book club choice and is a good read…just not a knock-me-over-with-a-feather one! It’s about decisions and consequences…good people doing bad things, by choice or by force or for reasons that are murky even to them.

Richard, the main character, is an investment banker, but not in a predatory way. He’s a good guy, and works hard to earn his high salary. He’s happy in his marriage, loves his nine-year-old daughter,  and tries to model appropriate behavior for his much younger, wilder brother, Jeff, and hopes to keep him in check by hosting Jeff’s bachelor’s party at his home in Westchester, a wealthy New York City suburb. This bad decision leads to other bad decisions which make a very bad series of events worse for Richard, who might otherwise be seen as blameless in the tragic aftermath.

What missed the mark for me? I think it was the alternating chapters in the voice of Alexandra, one of two young Armenian women who were hired by Richard’s brother’s sleazy friend Spencer to come to the bachelor’s party. They didn’t ring true enough for me to forget that they were actually written by the white, male, middle-aged author. Also, The Guest Room could be intended to shake readers out of complacency over the real-life crime of sex trafficking by bringing it into the world of an “average”, innocent person, but instead of becoming real people to me, the characters seemed to be playing assigned roles in the story.

Maybe listening to the audio edition would have helped, as I assume the chapters in Alexandra’s voice are read by Mozhan Marno, who speaks multiple languages. The author’s daughter, Grace Experience, is listed as the second narrator. (She also narrated Close My Eyes by Chris Bohjalian, which I haven’t listened to.)

I thought the audio editions of Double Bind and The Night Strangers were great, so maybe I just fall under the spell of Chris Bohjalian’s storytelling more easily when his books are read aloud to me by professionals, instead of leaving it up to my imagination.

The story is exciting; it carries the book along. Book clubs will find plenty to talk about!

Listen to the opening of The Guest Room here. Read the opening of the print edition of The Guest Room here.

If you have read or listened to The Guest Room, what did you think? Am I off base here?

The Guest Room [has] an edge-of-the-seat momentum that propels the reader straight to the last page… For those who value the well-researched novel, the author’s 18th book will please… Promises to enlighten and entertain.”
— Anita Shreve, The Washington Post

The Guest Room
Bohjalian, Chris
Knopf Doubleday
Jan. 5, 2016
9780385538893
336 pp.$25.95 US

Disclosure: I received a free e-ARC of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.

4 thoughts on “When Bad Things Happen, are the Good People Still Good?: The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian (no spoilers)”

  1. I have this on hold at my library. I am a little nervous about characters who are lacking in depth and connection. I have actually had a bit too much of that lately. I have been on hold for long enough, that I will give it a go when it comes around. Great review.

    1. I kept (unfairly) comparing it to Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. I liked the other two books by Chris Bohjalian that I listened to so much that I hope I didn’t make this one sound bad. It just didn’t wow me, so I was a little disappointed.

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