A Selection of Barnes & Noble Recommends
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
The idea of the invented self hovers over Gatsby. Jay Gatsby, we remember, begins an unpromising life as James Gatz and is murdered for a crime he does not commit. Bohjalian, too, is interested in the gray area between hope and delusion, in how people are shaped by the events of their lives and the efforts they make to hold the self inviolable against fate and harm. As Nick Carraway concludes, the past is powerfully present in the future, and Laurel's investigations into Bobbie Crocker's life lead her inevitably into her own history. Some readers may reach the end and feel blindsided rather than enlightened, but The Double Bind describes just how circuitous that inescapable journey can be.
The Washington Post
The Double Bind races toward a conclusion that boasts a shocking twist.... This elegantly crafted tale is well worth delving into.
Artfully crafted, terrifying. . .Bohjalian has written a literary thriller. . .Laurel is an unforgettable, vulnerable, complicated character, as is Crocker. . .The pictures blur the line between reality and fiction, as photos so often do, making reality seem an even more precarious and dizzying height from which to read a work of fiction.
Susan Salter Reynolds
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 2006 Reed Business Information.
When a homeless man dies at the shelter where Laurel works, leaving behind a hoard of photographs substantiating his claim that he knew jazz and blues greats of an earlier era, Laurel feels compelled to investigate his past. Reading group guide in book. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Psychological thriller, crime novel and "what-if" sequel to The Great Gatsby-with significant twists.
Schizophrenic, yes, and alcoholic-but Bobbie Crocker isn't your stereotypical street person. Bohjalian (Before You Know Kindness, 2004, etc.) invests him with mystery; when he dies in Burlington, Vt., he leaves behind photographs from 1960s issues of Life magazine. Eartha Kitt, Dick Van Dyke, Muddy Waters-they're celebrity shots he took, combined with elegant evocations of Jazz Age Long Island. Laurel Estabrook, social worker at Crocker's shelter, discovers something else among them: a snapshot of herself riding a bike, just as she had, seven years before, when savaged by two thugs. The attack scarring her, she'd retreated into PTSD therapy, affairs with comforting, if noncommittal, father figures and a life less of ambition than service. Crocker's photos provide Laurel clues to their strangely interconnected pasts-and she sets out to decode them. Had the homeless man actually been to the manor born, son of Tom and Daisy Buchanan of fabled West Egg? His sister denies it, having spent most of her 70 years trying to whitewash her parents' reputation-Tom's brutality and Daisy's suspicious involvement in the car crash that killed one of his lovers. Had those wealthy, morally bankrupt parents caused Bobbie's "double bind," provoking schizophrenia by instilling in an unwanted child love/hate mixed messages? Or could Bobbie's father be someone yet more notorious, the darkly glamorous star of Fitzgerald's masterpiece? And why was Laurel's own likeness found in Crocker's cache? Sleuthing obsessively, she discovers that Bobbie had a son himself, a boy who grew up toterrify his father. And terrify her. Conflating literary lore, photographic analysis and meditations on homelessness and mental illness, Bohjalian produces his best and most complex fiction yet.
Ultra-clever, and moving, too.
Laurel Estabrook, a young social worker living in Vermont, becomes obsessed with a box of photographs that belonged to a deceased homeless man, Bobbie Crocker. An amateur photographer herself, Laurel wonders how someone as destitute as Crocker came to possess such high-quality photos, many of them featuring famous people and, bizarrely, Laurel's childhood town. As she devotes more and more time to researching Crocker's past, her friends and family become concerned for her mental well-being. Six years previously, Laurel was attacked by two men in the woods while riding her bike, and though she recovered enough to finish college and get a job, she remains fragile. Bohjalian, whose Midwives was an Oprah Book Club selection, adds original and creative elements to this tale by blending the story of The Great Gatsby with Laurel's story and including photographs by a real-life homeless man named Bob Campbell. Far from being simply a mystery story, this is a complex exploration of the human psyche and its efforts to heal and survive in whatever manner possible. Recommended for all fiction collections.
-Library Journal, Starred Review
Psychological thriller, crime novel and “what-if” sequel to The Great Gatsby—with significant twists. Schizophrenic, yes, and alcoholic—but Bobbie Crocker isn’t your stereotypical street person. Bohjalian (Before You Know Kindness, 2004, etc.) invests him with mystery; when he dies in Burlington, Vt., he leaves behind photographs from 1960s issues of Life magazine. Eartha Kitt, Dick Van Dyke, Muddy Waters—they’re celebrity shots he took, combined with elegant evocations of Jazz Age Long Island. Laurel Estabrook, social worker at Crocker’s shelter, discovers something else among them: a snapshot of herself riding a bike, just as she had, seven years before, when savaged by two thugs. The attack scarring her, she’d retreated into PTSD therapy, affairs with comforting, if noncommittal, father figures and a life less of ambition than service. Crocker’s photos provide Laurel clues to their strangely interconnected pasts—and she sets out to decode them. Had the homeless man actually been to the manor born, son of Tom and Daisy Buchanan of fabled West Egg? His sister denies it, having spent most of her 70 years trying to whitewash her parents’reputation—Tom’s brutality and Daisy’s suspicious involvement in the car crash that killed one of his lovers. Had those wealthy, morally bankrupt parents caused Bobbie’s “double bind,” provoking schizophrenia by instilling in an unwanted child love/hate mixed messages? Or could Bobbie’s father be someone yet more notorious, the darkly glamorous star of Fitzgerald’s masterpiece? And why was Laurel’s own likeness found in Crocker’s cache? Sleuthing obsessively, she discovers that Bobbie had a son himself, a boy who grew up to terrify his father. And terrify her. Conflating literary lore, photographic analysis and meditations on homelessness and mental illness, Bohjalian produces his best and most complex fiction yet. Ultra-clever, and moving, too.
- Kirkus, Starred Review
"The Double Bind races toward a conclusion that boasts a shocking twist. . .This elegantly crafted tale is well worth delving into."
"Chris Bohjalian's The Double Bind is simply one of the best written, most compelling, artfully woven novels to grace bookshelves in years." --AP review
“Bohjalian is a master of literary suspense.”
-Washington Post Book World
“Critics are giving Bohjalian…high marks for The Double Bind.” –USA Today
“[An] imaginatively crafted novel.” –Newsweek
“Great fiction…un-put-downable.” –People
“This is top-notch Bohjalian fiction.” –Entertainment Weekly
“A page-turner with a wicked twist at the end.” –LIFE
"[An] artfully crafted, terrifying new novel.... Bohjalian has written a literary thriller." --LA Times
“Truth may be stranger than fiction, but this book makes the case that truth is also more valuable as a source of inspiration.” –Daily News
“A literate thriller about homelessness, random brutality and an obsession with characters from Fitzgerald's ‘Great Gatsby.’” --New York Post
“[Bohjalian writes] the sorts of books people stay awake all night to finish, and The Double Bind exerts that same hypnotic tug.” --Washington Post Book World
“Clearly the most viscerally exciting of Bohjalian's normally cerebral books.” –Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“This psychological thriller…offers a chilling depiction of the ways we choose to remember as well as what we forget.” –Daily News
“An intriguing mix of fact and fiction. . .powerful. . .a shocker” --The Courant
“Bohjalian fills The Double Bind with gripping twists and turns.” –Redbook
“Part mystery and part psychological exploration…will certainly be interesting book-group fodder.” –The Denver Post
“Part psychological mystery and part literary puzzle.” –The Record (Bergen County, NJ)
"The suspense takes a twist at the end, which flips the story upside down." - Vermont Today