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Bohjalian Doesn't Play Fair
on May 12, 2007
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.