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The Double Bind (Vintage Contemporaries) Paperback – February 12, 2008
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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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.
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.
I live in Vermont and being able to identify various settings in the book was a thrill. I'll be interested to hear what my out-of-state reading friends think about it.
If you want to read more books by the author, I also recommend Hangman. It's a great ghost story, also set in Vermont.(I believe it's out of print but my dad recently bought a copy on Amazon Marketplace)
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I have read all of his books. I loved every one. This book is difficult to follow and too convoluted.Published 1 month ago by Amazon Customer
Easy reading given the subject matter. You are drawn in from page one and not let out until the very end. Delightfully interesting characters.Published 2 months ago by Daisy's Mom
Could not put it down and found myself thinking about it, trying to unlock all of its twists and turns, even when I wasn't reading it. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Teresa
After a gripping start this book went NOWHERE. Top this with endless past perfect tense and little but "telling, telling, telling" with scant "showing" and it was... Read morePublished 3 months ago by Page Turner