The Double Bind
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The Double Bind

3.7 414
by Chris Bohjalian

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Throughout his career, Chris Bohjalian has earned a reputation for writing novels that examine some of the most important issues of our time. With Midwives, he explored the literal and metaphoric place of birth in our culture. In The Buffalo Soldier, he introduced us to one of contemporary literature's most beloved foster children. And in Before You…  See more details below


Throughout his career, Chris Bohjalian has earned a reputation for writing novels that examine some of the most important issues of our time. With Midwives, he explored the literal and metaphoric place of birth in our culture. In The Buffalo Soldier, he introduced us to one of contemporary literature's most beloved foster children. And in Before You Know Kindness, he plumbed animal rights, gun control, and what it means to be a parent. Chris Bohjalian's riveting fiction keeps us awake deep into the night. As The New York Times has said, "Few writers can manipulate a plot with Bohjalian's grace and power." Now he is back with an ambitious new novel that travels between Jay Gatsby's Long Island and rural New England, between the Roaring Twenties and the twenty-first century.

When college sophomore Laurel Estabrook is attacked while riding her bicycle through Vermont's back roads, her life is forever changed. Formerly outgoing, Laurel withdraws into her photography and begins to work at a homeless shelter. There she meets Bobbie Crocker, a man with a history of mental illness and a box of photographs that he won't let anyone see. When Bobbie dies suddenly, Laurel discovers that he was telling the truth: before he was homeless, Bobbie Crocker was a successful photographer who had indeed worked with such legends as Chuck Berry, Robert Frost, and Eartha Kitt. As Laurel's fascination with Bobbie's former life begins to merge into obsession, she becomes convinced that some of his photographs reveal a deeply hidden, dark family secret. Her search for the truth will lead her further from her old life -- and into a cat-and-mouse game with pursuers who claim they want to save her.

In this spellbinding literary thriller, rich with complex and compelling characters -- including Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan -- Chris Bohjalian takes readers on his most intriguing, most haunting, and most unforgettable journey yet.

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Editorial Reviews

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In Chris Bohjalian's astonishing novel, nothing is what it at first seems. Not the bucolic Vermont back roads college sophomore Laurel Estabrook likes to bike. Not the savage assault she suffers toward the end of one of her rides. And certainly not Bobbie Crocker, the elderly man with a history of mental illness whom Laurel comes to know through her work at a Burlington homeless shelter in the years subsequent to the attack.

In his moments of lucidity, the gentle, likable Bobbie alludes to his earlier life as a successful photographer. Laurel finds it hard to believe that this destitute, unstable man could once have chronicled the lives of musicians and celebrities, but a box of photographs and negatives discovered among Bobbie's meager possessions after his death lends credence to his tale. How could such an accomplished man have fallen on such hard times? Becoming obsessed with uncovering Bobbie's past, Laurel studies his photographs, tracking down every lead they provide into the mystery of his life before homelessness -- including links to the rich neighborhoods of her own Long Island childhood and to the earlier world of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, with its larger-than-life characters, elusive desires, and haunting sorrows.

In a narrative of dazzling invention, literary ingenuity, and psychological complexity, Bohjalian engages issues of homelessness and mental illness by evoking the humanity that inhabits the core of both. At the same time, his tale is fast-paced and riveting -- The Double Bind combines the suspense of a thriller with the emotional depths of the most intimate drama. The breathtaking surprises of its final pages will leave readers stunned, overwhelmed by the poignancy of life's fleeting truths, as caught in Bobbie Crocker's photographs and in Laurel Estabrook's painful pursuit of Bobbie's past -- and her own.

Behind The Double Bind

While Bobbie Crocker, the photographer in The Double Bind, is fictitious, the photographs that appear in the book are real. They were taken by a man named Bob "Soupy" Campbell, who, as Chris Bohaljian explains in his Author's Note, "had gone from photographing luminaries from the 1950s and 1960s to winding up at a homeless shelter in northern Vermont."

Bohaljian's viewing of Campbell's work after the photographer's death provided an inspiration for The Double Bind. "We tend to stigmatize the homeless and blame them for their plight," Bohjalian writes.

"We are oblivious to the fact that most had lives as serious as our own before everything fell apart. The photographs in this book are a testimony to that reality."

About the Author

The San Francisco Chronicle has aptly described the hallmark of Chris Bohjalian's fiction: "ordinary people in heartbreaking circumstances behaving with grace and dignity." Since the selection of his book Midwives for Oprah's Book Club in 1998, Bohjalian has been one of America's most popular novelists. Born in White Plains, New York, in 1960, Chris Bohjalian attended Amherst College, publishing his first novel, A Killing in the Real World, six years after his 1982 graduation. Three more books -- Hangman (1991), Past the Bleachers (1992), and Water Witches (1995) -- followed before Midwives brought Bohjalian a wider audience, becoming a No. 1 New York Times bestseller. Four subsequent novels have also met with acclaim: The Law of Similars (1999), Trans-Sister Radio (2000), The Buffalo Soldier (2002), and Before You Know Kindness (2004). Bohjalian currently lives with his wife and daughter in Vermont. Idyll Banter, a collection of his newspaper columns on small-town life for the Burlington Free Press, was published in 2003. The author is donating a portion of his royalties from The Double Bind to the Burlington Committee on Temporary Shelter, where he first discovered the remarkable photographs by Bob Campbell included in the book.

From Our Booksellers

"Beautifully written . . . it kept me up reading until 3:00 a.m. A gripping story with a completely unexpected ending, which I reread several times in disbelief." --Cara Stanley, Greensboro, NC

"I loved the way Chris Bohjalian blended a classic -- The Great Gatsby -- with a modern story, and how he brought the story full circle with a surprising twist at the end." --Joni Padgett, Louisville, KY

"A brilliantly conceived novel, with compelling characters and a story line that's both intricate and completely absorbing. Hooray! What a terrific book!" --Janet Crane, Saugus, MA

"A deft combination of psychological thriller and character study, this book will send readers running for a copy of The Great Gatsby." --Tim Baldwin, Houston, TX

"An amazing book -- I never saw the end coming, but the clues were there all along. Thrilling and suspenseful." --Laura Brauman, Bloomington, IL

"This is a book with a message that needs telling: the story of the homeless and the scourge of mental illness. A great page-turner, a delight to read, and one of the best endings I've ever read." --Erica Snarski, Wilkes-Barre, PA

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Product Details

Crown Publishing Group
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
6.40(w) x 9.50(h) x 1.25(d)

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The Double Bind

By Chris Bohjalian

Random House

Chris Bohjalian

All right reserved.

ISBN: 1400047463

Chapter One


Laurel Estabrook was nearly raped the fall of her sophomore year of college. Quite likely she was nearly murdered that autumn. This was no date-rape disaster with a handsome, entitled UVM frat boy after the two of them had spent too much time flirting beside the bulbous steel of a beer keg; this was one of those violent, sinister attacks involving masked men–yes, men, plural, and they actually were wearing wool ski masks that shielded all but their eyes and the snarling rifts of their mouths–that one presumes only happens to other women in distant states. To victims whose faces appear on the morning news programs, and whose devastated, forever-wrecked mothers are interviewed by strikingly beautiful anchorwomen. She was biking on a wooded dirt road twenty miles northeast of the college in a town with a name that was both ominous and oxy-moronic: Underhill. In all fairness, the girl did not find the name Underhill menacing before she was assaulted. But she also did not return there for any reason in the years after the attack. It was somewhere around six-thirty on a Sunday evening, and this was the third Sunday in a row that she had packed her well-traveled mountain bike into the back of her roommate Talia's station wagon and driven to Underhill to ride for miles and miles along the logging roads that snaked through the nearby forest. At the time, it struck heras beautiful country: a fairy-tale wood more Lewis than Grimm, the maples not yet the color of claret. It was all new growth, a third-generation tangle of maple and oak and ash, the remnants of stone walls still visible in the understory not far from the paths. It was nothing like the Long Island suburbs where she had grown up, a world of expensive homes with manicured lawns only blocks from a long neon-lit swath of fast-food restaurants, foreign car dealers, and weight-loss clinics in strip malls.

After the attack, of course, her memories of that patch of Vermont woods were transformed, just as the name of the nearby town gained a different, darker resonance. Later, when she recalled those roads and hills– some seeming too steep to bike, but bike them she did– she would think instead of the washboard ruts that had jangled her body and her overriding sense that the great canopy of leaves from the trees shielded too much of the view and made the woods too thick to be pretty. Sometimes, even many years later, when she would be trying to fight her way to sleep through the flurries of wakefulness, she would see those woods after the leaves had fallen, and visualize only the long finger grips of the skeletal birches.

By six-thirty that evening the sun had just about set and the air was growing moist and chilly. But she wasn't worried about the dark because she had parked her friend's wagon in a gravel pull-off beside a paved road that was no more than three miles distant. There was a house beside the pull-off with a single window above an attached garage, a Cyclops visage in shingle and glass. She would be there in ten or fifteen minutes, and as she rode she was aware of the thick-lipped whistle of the breeze in the trees. She was wearing a pair of black bike shorts and a jersey with an image of a yellow tequila bottle that looked phosphorescent printed on the front. She didn't feel especially vulnerable. She felt, if anything, lithe and athletic and strong. She was nineteen.

Then a brown van passed her. Not a minivan, a real van. The sort of van that, when harmless, is filled with plumbing and electrical supplies, and when not harmless is packed with the deviant accoutrements of serial rapists and violent killers. Its only windows were small portholes high above the rear tires, and she had noticed as it passed that the window on the passenger side had been curtained off with black fabric. When the van stopped with a sudden squeal forty yards ahead of her, she knew enough to be scared. How could she not? She had grown up on Long Island– once a dinosaur swampland at the edge of a towering range of mountains, now a giant sandbar in the shape of a salmon– the almost preternaturally strange petri dish that spawned Joel Rifkin (serial killer of seventeen women), Colin Ferguson (the LIRR slaughter), Cheryl Pierson (arranged to have her high school classmate murder her father), Richard Angelo (Good Samaritan Hospital's Angel of Death), Robert Golub (mutilated a thirteen-year-old neighbor), George Wilson (shot Jay Gatsby as he floated aimlessly in his swimming pool), John Esposito (imprisoned a ten-year-old girl in his dungeon), and Ronald DeFeo (slaughtered his family in Amityville).

In truth, even if she hadn't grown up in West Egg she would have known enough to be scared when the van stopped on the lonely road directly before her. Any young woman would have felt the hairs rise up on the back of her neck. Unfortunately, the van had come to a stop so abruptly that she couldn't turn around because the road was narrow and she used a clipless pedal system when she rode: This meant that she was linked by a metal cleat in the sole of each cycling shoe to her pedals. She would have needed to snap her feet free, stop, and put a toe down to pivot as she swiveled her bike 180 degrees. And before she could do any of that two men jumped out, one from the driver's side and one from the passenger's, and they both had those intimidating masks shielding their faces: a very bad sign indeed in late September, even in the faux tundra of northern Vermont.

And so with a desperate burst of adrenaline she tried to pedal past them. She hadn't a prayer. One of them grabbed her around her shoulders as she tried to race by, while the other was hoisting her (and her bicycle) off the ground by her waist. They were, essentially, tackling her as if she were a running back and they were a pair of defensive linemen who had reached her in the backfield. She screamed– shrill, girlish, desperate screams that conveyed both her vulnerability and her youth– at the same time that a part of her mind focused analytically on what might have been the most salient feature of her predicament: She was still locked by her shoes to her bike and she had to remain that way at all costs, while holding on fast to the handlebars. This alone might keep her off the sides of Vermont milk cartons and the front pages of the Vermont newspapers. Why? Because she realized that she couldn't possibly overpower her assailants–even her hair was lanky and thin–but if they couldn't pry her from the bicycle it would be that much more difficult to cart her into the deep woods or throw her into the back of their van.

At one point the more muscular of the two, a thug who smelled like a gym– not malodorous, not sweaty, but metallic like weights– tried to punch her in the face, but she must have ducked because he slammed his fist into the edge of her helmet and swore. His eyes beneath his mask were the icy gray of the sky in November, and around each wrist she saw a coil of barbed wire had been tattooed like a bracelet. He yelled for his partner– who had a tattoo, as well, a skull with improbable ears (sharp ears, a wolf's) and long wisps of smoke snaking up from between the fangs in its mouth– to put the god-damn bike down so he could rip her foot from the cleat. Briefly, she considered releasing her foot herself so she could kick him with the hard point of her bike shoe. But she didn't. Thank God. She kept her foot pointing straight ahead, the metal clip in the sole snapped tightly into the pedal. He tried yanking at her ankle, but he knew nothing about cleats and so he wasn't precisely sure how to twist her foot. Frustrated, he threatened to break her ankle, while his partner began trying to wrench her thumb and fingers from the handlebars. But she held on, all the while continuing to scream with the conviction that she was screaming for her life– which, clearly, she was.

Meanwhile, they called her a cunt. In the space of moments– not minutes, but maybe– they called her a cunt, a twat, a pussy, a gash. A fucking cunt. A stupid cunt. A teasing cunt. Fish cunt. Slut cunt. Dead cunt. You dead cunt. No verb. Even the words were violent, though initially three sounded to her less about the hate and the anger and the derision: Those words were spoken (not shouted) with a leer by the thinner of the pair, an inside joke between the two of them, and it was only after he had repeated them did she understand it was not three words she was hearing but two. It was a made-up brand name, a noun, a flavor at her expense. He had reduced her vagina to an aperitif on the mistaken assumption that there could possibly be even a trace of precoital wetness lubricating her now. Liqueur Snatch. That was the joke. Get it, get it? Not lick her snatch. A French cordial instead. But the joke elicited nothing from his partner, no reaction at all, because this was only about his unfathomable hatred for her. What therapists call that moment of arousal? For all Laurel knew, it would come for him the moment she died. The moment they killed her.

Finally, they threw her and her bicycle onto the ground. For a split second she thought they had given up. They hadn't. They started to drag her by her bicycle tires as if she and the bike were a single creature, a dead deer they were hauling by its legs from the woods. They were dragging her to the van, her right elbow and knee scraping along the dirt road, intending to throw her–bicycle and all–into the back.

But they couldn't, and this, too, is probably a reason why she survived. They had so much gym equipment crammed into the rear of the vehicle that they couldn't fit her inside it while she was attached to her bike. She glimpsed discus-shaped weights and benches and metal bars when they lifted her up, and what looked like the vertical components of a Nautilus machine. And so they tossed her back down onto the hard dirt while they made room for her in the van, shattering her collarbone and leaving a bruise on her left breast that wouldn't heal completely for months. She felt daggers of pain so pronounced that she was instantly nauseous, and it was only adrenaline that kept her from vomiting. Still, she continued to grasp the bicycle's handlebars and keep her feet locked to its pedals. One of the men barked at her not to move, which, for a variety of reasons, wasn't an option: She wasn't about to let go of the bike, and with a broken collarbone it was highly unlikely that she could have managed to release her feet, stand up, and ride away in anything less than half an hour.

How long did she lie there like that? Ten seconds? Fifteen? It probably wasn't even half a minute. Her assailants saw the other cyclists before she did. There, approaching them down the road, were three vigorous bikers who, it would turn out, were male lawyers from Underhill on their way home after a daylong seventy-five-mile sojourn into the Mad River Valley and back. They were on road bikes, and when they heard Laurel screaming they stood up on their pedals and started streaking toward the van. It was the sort of into-the-fire valor that is uncommon these days. But what choice had they? Leave her to be abducted or killed? How could any person do that? And so they rode forward, and the two men raced into the front cab and slammed shut the doors. She thought they were going to drive away. They would, but not instantly. First they spun the van into reverse, trying to run her over and kill her. Leave her for dead. But she was, fortunately, not directly behind the vehicle. They had dropped her just far enough to the side that even clipped in she was able to claw the foot or foot and a half away that she needed to save her life. They ran over and mangled both bicycle wheels and bruised her left foot. But her bike shoe and the bicycle's front fork probably spared it from being crushed. Then the men sped off, the vehicle's wheels kicking small stones into her face and her eyes, while the exhaust momentarily left her choking.

When she was able to breathe again, she finally threw up. She was sobbing, she was bleeding, she was filthy. She was an altogether most pathetic little victim: a girl trapped on the ground in her cleats like a turtle who has wound up on its back in its shell. She would realize later that one of her attackers had broken her left index finger at some point as he had tried to force her to loosen her grip.

Gingerly, the lawyers turned her ankles so she could release herself from her pedals and then helped her gently to her feet. The van was long gone, but Laurel had memorized the license plate and within hours the men were apprehended. One of them worked with bodybuilders at some hard-core weight-lifting club in Colchester. He didn't live far from where she had parked, and he had followed her the week before. When he realized that the Jetta wagon with the girl with the yellow hair that fell out the back of her helmet had returned, he saw his chance. Laurel was the first woman he had tried to rape in Vermont, but he had done this before in Washington and Idaho before coming east, and he had slashed the wrists of a schoolteacher on her morning jog in Montana and left her to bleed to death in a field of winter wheat. He had left her tied to a barbed-wire fence, and the tattoos on his wrists– like many a tattoo– was a commemoration. A piece of art that he wore like a cherished memento.

His partner, apparently, hadn't had any idea that his new friend was a murderer: He was a drifter who had come to Vermont and presumed now they were merely going to have a little fun together at the expense of some young female bicyclist.

Afterward, Laurel went home to Long Island to recover, and she didn't return to college in Vermont until January. The spring semester. She took courses the following summer to catch up– she was in Burlington that July anyway for her assailants' trials– and by the autumn she was back on the same schedule with the rest of her classmates and would graduate with them in a couple of Junes. Still, the trials had been difficult for her. They had been brief, but there had been two to endure. It was the first time she had been back in the presence of either of her assailants since the attack, and the first time she had studied their faces in the flesh. The drifter, who would dramatically reduce his sentence by testifying against the bodybuilder, had pale skin the color of cooked fish and a nut-brown goatee that elongated a face already tending toward horsey. His hair was completely gone on top and what remained was gray mixed in with the brown of his small beard. Even though it was the summer, he wore a shirt with a high collar to hide his tattoo. A part of his defense was the contention that he had dropped acid before the attack and wasn't in his right mind.


Excerpted from The Double Bind
by Chris Bohjalian Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Gregory Maguire
From the Author of Wicked and Son of a Witch:
A mystery anchored in sorrow, a harrowing and even haunting tale of literary influence, delusion, intervention. Chris Bohjalian has done it again.

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The Double Bind 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 415 reviews.
iowagirlLB More than 1 year ago
I could not wait until I was done reading this book, because I really did not enjoy it at all. I have read waaaay too many Jodie Picoult books (no more) to ever be surprised by the standard surprise ending again. The Gatsby story threw me for awhile, but the periodic interjection of notes from the state mental hospital made the ending a dead giveaway...the meticulous avoidance of the patient's gender made the patient's identity completely obvious.

I also felt the ending was a disappointment...we heard all of the details of the incident (too many, if you ask me) via the attacker's apology letter, which was much too contrived to be believable...the sole purpose seemed to be to explain the attack to the reader. Then more doctor's notes, followed by nothing. The characters were missing the depth to really make me care.
FeltSilly More than 1 year ago
As I was reading this book I thought I had it all figured out and was prematurely disappointed in the predictability of the plot. There seemed to be too many unlikely coincidences and an obvious set up. Well I fell for the set up but not the one I was dreading. The last chapter was the twist I had hoped for! Now I have to start it over to go through the story with my new perspective. I definitely recommend this book to others.
paul-pro More than 1 year ago
Takes a real look at PTSD occurring outside of a war zone. A real look at how trauma can affect all people.
gr8bookworm More than 1 year ago
This book provided great entertainment with a twist in the plot that made me want to re-read it after I had finished. Great entertainment! Reminded me of some of the old Hitchcock movies that had dramatic twists and turns. Highly readable, highly recommend it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is about a women named Laurel, who at the beggining of the book was brutally attacked by some men, while she was out on a routine bike ride. After this attack, she wanted noting to do with Biking, so she started swimming. She got heavily involved with a program called BEDS, this program helps the homeless find homes. Through this program, she meets Bobbie Crocker. When he dies, he leaves a box of photos, and Laurel sorts through them and tries to find the meaning of each of them. through this, she becomes so consumed by them, and it starts to lead to some problems. i really liked this book, because everyone has problems that they face in their lives. this book has twists and turns, and there is a whacky ending. but in the end i reccomend this book, it will make you want to keep reading.
Guest More than 1 year ago
From the opening page to the end, I had difficulty putting this book down. It started out with a woman being attacked in late September in Vermont. I froze as I read that as I too had been attacked on the last day of September in Vermont - and the same year as the woman in the book. The references to Waterbury State Hospital had relevance as well as my assailant to this day is the lock-up ward at Waterbury State Hospital. Even with the weird similarities - not many people get attacked in Vermont - the book was a definite page-turner for me and the ending was, well let's just say it was quite a surprise. I loaned The Double Bind to two friends who also truly loved the book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
While reading this novel, I started to feel delusional myself - thinking I was supposed to enjoy reading a great book, but in reality, I suffered for hours upon hours reading a terrible book. And with a bit of glee, I was at the final chapter - hopeful the worst was over. Ironically, the ending was the worst part.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Double Bind! I was determined not to read it at a single sitting, but just could not put it down. Fast paced, riveting, wonderful characters!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was a great book that combined The Great Gatsby with a surprise ending. Highly recommend!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Double Bind is an okay book. It was very good in the begining and most way through the book, but towards the end it got very confusing. I would recommend this book to people who pay attention to details and like mysteries. However, i would not recommend this book to anyone who gets lost easily, or to people who do not like surprise endings.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was very interesting. There were so many different componets the author worked into the book, that by the end I was speechless. There was a lot of foreshadowing in the book. To be honest, the ending of the book frustrated me. I did not see it coming and it hit me like homerun baseball. It was a mystery and adventure at the same time and I really enjoyed that. It was almost like a crime scene and I found myself trying to plan what would happen next. Over all, it was a decent book.
Gen15 More than 1 year ago
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. With all the mystery, it kept me engrossed within the pages each time I read. Each chapter presented new clues and information that kept me guessing until the very last chapter. After finishing the book and finding out everything, I can look back now and observe that the author's foreshadowing was very obvious. The twist at the end really caught me by surprise. However, it was definitely a pleasant surprise. it fit the style of the book to a tee.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I just finished reading this book 20 minutes ago, and I'm a bit on the fence about what I thought of it. For whatever reason, I realized about a third of the way into the book what was going on. The ending didn't match my suspicions entirely, but it was close enough and I was not the least bit surprised (which greatly reduced the magic of the book for me). I believe my foreknowledge was due to either a) One of my favorite books has a very similar ending, and I was able to spot the "truth" simply because I happen to have read this other book, or b) The story was transparent and anyone could easily guess what was going on well before reaching the end. I'm not quite sure which of the above applies. Nevertheless, this book is thought-provoking and informative, with likable main characters. I enjoyed it, but not as much as I feel that I should have.
Guest More than 1 year ago
With the big hype this book received, I purchased another by the author at the same time. After reading this one, I won't read the other. This story should have been packaged very differently--if packaged at all. It was definitely pitched to the wrong audience. I rarely review books I don't recommend, but in this case, I felt genuinely ripped off. I was disappointed by the choppy style, disenchanted with the many poorly drawn characters and jarred by mediocre writing interspersed with literary phrases. The literary descriptions were great, but didn't flow with the adjoining text. If the effort was intentional--to match the thinking pattern of the mentally ill--the experiment was a failure for this reader and came off as merely bad writing. I'm game for an unusual story, but never appreciate being 'knifed in the back' by an author. I had low expectations for the ending, but they weren't low enough. It was awful. I recommend this book only to aspiring writers who want to learn what alienates a reader.
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Recommended to me by coworker. I should have known better, because it was as boring as I feared something she would read would be. This male author cannot authentically write from a woman's perspective. One star.
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