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The Double Bind: A Novel Hardcover – February 13, 2007
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Working at a homeless shelter, student Laurel Estabrook encounters Bobbie Crocker, a man with a history of mental illness and a box of secret photos. When Bobbie dies suddenly, Laurel embarks on an obsessive search for the truth behind the photos.
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Laurel, the social worker protagonist, is an entirely "reasonable" person, or is she? Why would the reader doubt that she's on the right track? I didn't. Then there is the ending, but is the ending the final word on what actually happened? Some readers suggest re-reading the book to determine where things got off track. I didn't do that, but had I done so would have concentrated on what Pamela wanted and why. Why did Pamela want the photos? Is her motivation clarified?
So wonderful to have "The Great Gatsby" revived. I even watched again the 1974 movie version, with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow. No wonder that movie won an Oscar for best costumes, even if the protagonists didn't even place or show. What would Scott Fitzgerald think of this mélange of two fictional treatments? Do two fictions make a reality?
Suspense - this is what kept me turning pages and looking forward to each opportunity to continue reading. Not the "suspense" one finds in crime thrillers, but the kind that keeps you guessing about what the characters will do next, and what will be the final outcome. This is a riveting read, whether or not the author plays embarrassing tricks on the reader.
Who among us could not be moved by F. Scott Fitzgerald's haunting, poignant prose? One need not be a member of the literati to appreciate the world of Tom and Daisy Buchanan, Jay Gatsby, George and Myrtle Wilson, and Meyer Wolfsheim, and the raw, brawling, American social dynamic of the Roaring Twenties that animates them. Chris Bohjalian artfully brings it all back to life in the modern context of mental disorder and homelessness. Within every homeless person lives a story; to be sure, some are more compelling than others, but no one consciously aspires to end up on the street, and certainly not a genial, elderly man who might well be the estranged son of Tom and Daisy Buchanan. What could possibly have precipitated such a spectacular fall from the pinnacle of inherited privilege and staggering wealth? How could a putative American prince, the scion of one of America's great fortunes, have ended up living behind a dumpster in Burlington, Vermont? Why would he have taken photographs of Gatsby's mansion in West Egg and the Buchanan estate in East Egg? What has compelled him to carry around such photographs for over sixty years?
These are but a few of the questions that by degree interest, then intrigue, then fascinate and finally overwhelm the central figure of the story, Laurel Estabrook, an earnest, twentysomething social worker at BEDS, the Burlington homeless shelter. When Bobbie Crocker is brought to the shelter, all he has to his name is a cherished box of old photographs, the sum total of his eighty-plus years on this earth. Other than the evidence that at some point in his life he was a photographer, practically nothing is known about him; like so many of the homeless, he is to all appearances a nobody from nowhere, a man with no link to any other living being. Most of the photographs are surprisingly professional, and fascinating for their subject matter: Chuck Berry, Julie Andrews, Robert Frost, Eartha Kitt. And then there are the old, weathered snapshots linking Bobbie to the Buchanans and Gatsby. After Bobbie's sudden death, Laurel is given the task of sorting through the photos, and it is the old shots of Long Island - in and around East and West Egg, where she herself grew up - that draw her into the mystery of Bobbie's life. In the process, she is forced to confront traumas of her own and the harsh realities of events that have deeply and permanently scarred her. The result is a powerful, gripping story that holds the reader until the very last word. Chris Bohjalian is a modern master, and THE DOUBLE BIND is a stunning accomplishment, not to be missed.