Guest Reviewer: Jodi Picoult
From the provocative and gut-wrenching The Pact, to the brilliant genre-bending The Tenth Circle, to her latest novel about a high school shooting Nineteen Minutes, Jodi Picoult's riveting novels center on family and relationships, and bring to light questions and issues that remain with a reader long after the last page is turned.
I once heard a fellow novelist call writing "successful schizophrenia"--we invent people and worlds that don't exist; but instead of being medicated, we are paid for it. Although countless novels succeed in whisking the reader away on the heels of such fabrications, there are very few that pull the curtain away from the craft, allowing us inside the mind of a working novelist as he combines reality and fantasy. Chris Bohjalian's The Double Bind is not just one of these; it's the finest example I've ever read of a book that tips its hat to both the beauty of the literary creation, as well as the magical act of creating.
Fact and fiction become indistinguishable in The Double Bind: The story centers on Laurel Estabrook, a young social worker and survivor of a near-rape, who stumbles across photographs taken by a formerly homeless client and tries to understand how a man who'd taken snapshots of celebrities in the 50s and 60s might have wound up on the streets. However, an author's note tells us that Bohjalian conceived this book after being shown a batch of old photographs taken by a once-homeless man; and the actual photos of Bob "Soupy" Campbell are peppered throughout the text. In another neat twist, Bohjalian's resurrects details from The Great Gatsby, which become "real" in the context of his own novel--Laurel lives in West Egg; part of her hunt for her photographer's past involves meeting with the descendants of Daisy and Tom Buchanan.
As a writer who counts The Great Gatsby as one of the books that changed her life, this inclusion was both startling and remarkable for me. Who doesn't want one's favorite characters to come to life--even if it's only within the constraints of another fictional work? But Bohjalian chose his text wisely: no discussion of The Great Gatsby is complete without alluding to missed opportunities and unreliable sources--critical elements in Laurel's quest. And therein lies Bohjalian's true double bind: all stories--even the ones we tell ourselves--are subject to our own interpretation, and to the degree we can make others believe them.
The Double Bind may flirt with the classics, but it's not your father's stuffy old tome: it's the sort of book you want to read in one sitting, and it packs a twist at the end that will leave you speechless. It also, worthily, spotlights the cause of homelessness in a way that isn't preachy, but honest and explanatory. Ultimately, what Bohjalian's done is offer his lucky readers another reminder of why he's such an extraordinary author: by creating characters that become so real we lose the distinction between truth and embellishment; by reminding us that the story of any life--whether fictional, functional, or marginal--is one to be savored. --Jodi Picoult
--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.