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The Double Bind (Vintage Contemporaries) Paperback – February 12, 2008


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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Best known for the provocative and powerful novel, Midwives (an Oprah Book Club® Selection), Chris Bohjalian writes beautiful and riveting fiction featuring what the San Francisco Chronicle dubbed "ordinary people in heartbreaking circumstances behaving with grace and dignity." In his new novel, The Double Bind, a literary thriller with references to (and including characters from) The Great Gatsby, Bohjalian takes readers on a haunting journey through one woman's obsession with uncovering a dark secret. We think Bohjalian fans will be thrilled with this compelling and unforgettable read, but just to be sure, we asked bestselling author Jodi Picoult to read The Double Bind and give us her take. Check out her review below. --Daphne Durham


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

Readers will be startled to learn early on that the heroine of this engrossing puzzle, 26-year-old Laurel Estabrook, was born in West Egg. Wait a minute, wasn't West Egg where Jay Gatsby lived? Laurel works in a Burlington, Vt., homeless shelter and is trying to overcome mental and physical scars incurred from a brutal assault some six years earlier. After being given a portfolio of photographs taken by a recently deceased resident of the shelter, Bobbie Crocker, she becomes obsessed with questions surrounding what appears to be a picture of herself shot on the day of her attack. Laurel's already fragile mental state begins to unravel as she follows Bobbie's life from his rich-kid childhood on Long Island to homelessness in Vermont. The Gatsby references form the basis of the mystery, compelling readers to try to imagine how this fictional backdrop relates to the novel's "reality." It's a high-wire act for bestseller Bohjalian (Midwives), and while the climactic explanation may be a letdown for some, he generally pulls off a tricky and intriguing premise. (Feb.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Series: Vintage Contemporaries
  • Paperback: 395 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (February 12, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400031664
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400031665
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (399 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #199,575 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Lincoln, Vermont's Chris Bohjalian is the critically acclaimed author of 17 books, including nine New York Times bestsellers. His work has been translated into over 25 languages and three times become movies.

His new novel, The Light in the Ruins, debuted as a New York Times, Publishers Weekly, and national Indiebound bestseller. The book is a re-imagining of Romeo and Juliet set in Tuscany at the end of the Second World War.

His epic novel of the Armenian Genocide, The Sandcastle Girls, was published in paperback in April.

His next novel, Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands, arrives on July 8, 2014.

His books have been chosen as Best Books of the Year by the Washington Post, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Hartford Courant, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, Bookpage, and Salon.

His awards include the ANCA Freedom Award for his work educating Americans about the Armenian Genocide; the ANCA Arts and Letters Award for The Sandcastle Girls, as well as the Saint Mesrob Mashdots Medal; the New England Society Book Award for The Night Strangers; the New England Book Award; a Boston Public Library Literary Light; a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award; and the Anahid Literary Award. His novel, Midwives, was a number one New York Times bestseller, a selection of Oprah's Book Club, and a New England Booksellers Association Discovery pick. He is a Fellow of the Vermont Academy of Arts and Sciences.

He has written for a wide variety of magazines and newspapers, including the Washington Post, Cosmopolitan, Reader's Digest, and the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine. He has been a weekly columnist in Vermont for the Burlington Free Press since February 1992.

Chris graduated Phi Beta Kappa and Summa Cum Laude from Amherst College, and lives in Vermont with his wife, the photographer Victoria Blewer, and their daughter Grace Experience.

Customer Reviews

This is a book that has to be read from start to finish.
Timothy Kearney
It reads too much like a male author tried to write a female main character and couldn't quite pull it off.
T. Williams
I knew there was going to be "twist" at the end of this book.
K.T. Reid

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

93 of 100 people found the following review helpful By Jill I. Shtulman TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 28, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Many years ago, I stayed up nights, enthralled by The Great Gatsby. Here, author Chris Bohjalian commandeers the Great Gatsby characters and breathes new life into them in this complex literary thriller.

The preface is heart-pounding: Laura Estabrook is attacked while riding her bicycle through Vermont's back roads. What really happened during that attack? I won't spoil it, but it's the catalyst for the rest of the novel, as Laura becomes obsessed with a former homeless patient with a history of mental illness and a box of photographs that may hold the key to her past.

I welcomed "old friends" into my life again -- Jay Gatsby, Daisy & Tom Buchanan, their daughter Pamela (now a dowager herself), George and Myrtle Wilson. They hold sway with the new characters brought to life by Chris Bohjalian.

There are as many twists and turns in this novel as there are on the Vermont bike roads that Laurel no longer travels. It's a psychological mystery story that kept me turning pages. Once started, the book becomes a compulsive page-turner; not perfect, but highly readable.
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30 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Antoinette Klein on September 19, 2008
Format: Paperback
From the opening pages, I was mesmerized by the story of Laurel Estabrook, a young woman who at the beginning of her sophomore year in college is brutally attacked while bicycling. The attack sends her into a dramatic downward spiraling, changing her in ways that concern her friends. She appears to pull herself together and after graduation begins working at a homeless shelter. It is there she encounters Bobbie Crocker, a homeless man, who apparently had been a world-class photographer at one point in his life but dies homeless and without any known family. Laurel becomes obsessed with a box of photographs he left behind and begins piecing together a story of what his life must have been like before he lost control of circumstances.

If you've read The Great Gatsby, you will be doubly intrigued as favorite characters from that novel play prominent parts in this one. Tom and Daisy Buchanan, Myrtle and George Wilson, Meyer Wolfsheim, and particularly the Buchanan daughter Pamela and Jay Gatsby himself all figure prominently in Laurel's story.

Chris Bohjalian has taken an intriguing premise, juxtaposing the life of a fragile woman alongside her obsession with a homeless man's former life. What he does for readers is extraordinary, giving us a true page-turner that delves into delusions and blurs fiction with reality so effortlessly, that we are stunned as we race toward the heart-stopping finale. From the nostalgic photographs peppered throughout to the psychiatric documentation that periodically jars the reader, this is a mesmerizing novel that will keep you up all night and have you pondering its shocking conclusion long after you have shut the book.
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64 of 72 people found the following review helpful By KEVIN OCONNELL on May 12, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Part way through this review I'm going to give away the ending of Chris Bohjalian's The Double Bind. Consider yourself warned.

Novelists can feel free to invent imaginary worlds. Philip Roth did this very well in The Plot Against America, imagining a world in which Charles Lindbergh had become president; and Michael Chabon in The Yiddish Policeman's Union has created a world in which 1948 marked the increased ostracization of Jews rather than the creation of the state of Israel. (I think that's what he's done; I just started reading it.) But having established the rules of their fictional worlds, writers must abide by them.

The world Bohjalian creates in The Double Bind is identical to the real world in every way, except that the novel The Great Gatsby was a true story: Jay Gatsby, Jordan Baker, Tom and Daisy Buchanan, their daughter Pamela, and others from the classic Fitzgerald novel are or were real people. Several characters in the The Double Bind confirm this; indeed part of the story is told from the point of view of one of the characters from Gatsby. But Bohjalian changes the rules of his world at the end of the novel by revealing that The Great Gatsby is fictional afterall and the main character of The Double Bind is delusional. Things Bohjalian has presented to us as facts did not really happen. Characters we have seen interact with other "real" characters do not really exist. They were part of an account written by the deranged heroin of the story.

Watch The Sixth Sense again and look for interaction between the guy who turns out to be dead and any other living characters except the boy who sees dead people. Doesn't happen. That's what makes the revelation that the guy is actually dead so powerful: we realize we should have, or at least could have, known it along. With The Double Bind, we didn't have that chance. The ending leaves us feeling cheated, because we were.
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90 of 103 people found the following review helpful By Jesse Liberty VINE VOICE on March 20, 2007
Format: Hardcover
A surprisingly literate psychological thriller about a social worker, a destitute photographer and the folks who flocked around The Great Gatsby. This book gets better and better as it goes, and evolves into one of the most interesting novels I've read in quite a while. Highly recommended, but be careful not to let anyone tell you too much about it. By all means, avoid all reviews that might give away too much.
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Frank Camm on September 17, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have to give Mr. Bohjalian 5 stars for chutzpah. How many authors would so tightly link their own work to one of the American classics of the 20th century--perhaps the Great American Novel itself--forcing any reader to compare Bohjalian to Fitzgerald? I can assure you that, if this work is representative, Mr. Bohjalian is no Fitzgerald; they hardly speak the same language.

But wait, the chutzpah gets even more extreme! It is possible that Mr. Bohjalian has deliberately given us this rambling, slack style--sometimes seemingly deliberately hanging with Spanish-moss-like clumps of unfocused, clicheed phrases that only a nonwriter would dare have appear under his own name--for a literary purpose. Without revealing too much--and the book is all about the series of relevations that progressively emerge--I think I can safely suggest that Mr. Bohjalian may be dropping a (perhaps massive) clue about where the story is heading by writing in such a slack, nonliterary style. Chutzpah indeed to set himself up so close to a master stylist like Fitzgerald just to make himself look like a bad writer to advance his own plot.

Or maybe not. Maybe the book really isn't that coherent. It teems with references to The Great Gatsby on many levels. It invites the reader to hear these references in multiple voices speaking in the primary narrator's voice. But for the life of me, I can't distinguish where one voice starts and another leaves off. Shifts appear to occur in the middle of paragraphs. Or at least, the story can be viewed as coherent only if this is going on.
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