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Secrets of Eden

Secrets of Eden

3.6 248
by Chris Bohjalian

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From the bestselling author of The Double Bind, Midwives, and Skeletons at the Feast comes a novel of shattered faith, intimate secrets, and the delicate nature of sacrifice.

"There," says Alice Hayward to Reverend Stephen Drew, just after her baptism, and just before going home



From the bestselling author of The Double Bind, Midwives, and Skeletons at the Feast comes a novel of shattered faith, intimate secrets, and the delicate nature of sacrifice.

"There," says Alice Hayward to Reverend Stephen Drew, just after her baptism, and just before going home to the husband who will kill her that evening and then shoot himself. Drew, tortured by the cryptic finality of that short utterance, feels his faith in God slipping away and is saved from despair only by a meeting with Heather Laurent, the author of wildly successful, inspirational books about . . . angels. 

Heather survived a childhood that culminated in her own parents' murder-suicide, so she identifies deeply with Alice’s daughter, Katie, offering herself as a mentor to the girl and a shoulder for Stephen – who flees the pulpit to be with Heather and see if there is anything to be salvaged from the spiritual wreckage around him.
But then the State's Attorney begins to suspect that Alice's husband may not have killed himself. . .and finds out that Alice had secrets only her minister knew.

Secrets of Eden is both a haunting literary thriller and a deeply evocative testament to the inner complexities that mark all of our lives.  Once again Chris Bohjalian has given us a riveting page-turner in which nothing is precisely what it seems.  As one character remarks, “Believe no one.  Trust no one.  Assume all of our stories are suspect.”

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Bohjalian (Law of Similars) has built a reputation on his rich characters and immersing readers in diverse subjects—homeopathy, animal rights activism, midwifery—and his latest surely won’t disappoint. The morning after her baptism into the Rev. Stephen Drew’s Vermont Baptist church, Alice Hayward and her abusive husband are found dead in their home, an apparent murder-suicide. Stephen, the novel’s first narrator, is so racked with guilt over his failure to save Alice that he leaves town. Soon, he meets Heather Laurent, the author of a book about angels whose own parents’ marriage also ended in tragedy. Stephen’s deeply sympathetic narration is challenged by the next two narrators: deputy state attorney Catherine Benincasa, whose suspicions are aroused initially by Stephen’s abrupt departure (and then by questions about his relationship with Alice), and Heather, who distances herself from Stephen for similar reasons and risks the trip into her dark past by seeking out Katie, the Haywards’ now-orphaned 15-year-old daughter who puts into play the final pieces of the puzzle, setting things up for a touching twist. Fans of Bohjalian’s more exotic works will miss learning something new, but this is a masterfully human and compassionate tale. Starred Review (Feb.)
Library Journal
While stylistically reminiscent of his earlier best seller, Midwives, Bohjalian's 13th novel is his most splendid accomplishment to date. The story revolves around the apparent murder-suicide of Alice and George Hayward and its toll on the couple's teenage daughter Katie, the lost faith of Rev. Stephen Drew, and the minister's relationship with an author of books about angels. As the narrative takes its turn through a series of voices, Bohjalian wends his way through the reader's mind, toying with perceptions, trust, and doubt. Did George in fact kill himself after strangling his wife? As lives are dissected, relationships are uncovered and their repercussions hypothesized and echoed. VERDICT A fantastic choice for book clubs, this novel deals beautifully with controversial topics of domestic abuse, faith, and adultery without resorting to sensationalism. Fans of Jodi Picoult and Anita Shreve will enjoy this breathtaking piece of fiction. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 11/1/09; also available in ebook, large print, and unabridged CD editions; a Lifetime TV movie will coincide with the paperback sale.—Ed.]—Julie Kane, Sweet Briar Coll. Lib., VA
Kirkus Reviews
Bohjalian (Skeletons at the Feast, 2008, etc.) returns with a story of violence. Part I opens with the first-person testimony of Stephen Drew, minister to a Baptist congregation in Haverill, Vt., that includes Alice Hayward, whose husband George tops off years of beatings by strangling her after dinner on the day she chose to be baptized. It quickly becomes clear that Stephen and Alice had been lovers, and the weirdly distanced description of the guilt he feels about her death is creepy even before we realize that George may not have shot himself after killing his wife, and Stephen is the top suspect in the eyes of deputy state's attorney Catherine Benincasa. The narration of Part II is problematic; while Stephen is arrogant and self-absorbed, Catherine is vengefully obsessed with the violence against women she sees in her work. The portrait of the Hayward marriage that emerges from both accounts is grimly predictable (angry, controlling man; passive, isolated woman). The novel improves dramatically with the narration in Part III of Heather Laurent, author of bestselling books about angels who has a brief affair with Stephen in the aftermath of Alice's murder. Heather's father killed her mother and then himself when she was 14, and she thinks she can help both Stephen and 15-year-old Katie Hayward, Alice and George's daughter, deal with their trauma. Heather's depiction of her parents' marriage has the specificity and complexity missing from the collage portrait of the Haywards, though her fixation on angels never amounts to anything more than a fictional device. Part IV, narrated by Katie, has a somber power as the girl imagines her parents' last hours. A schematic tale of batteredwives, murderous husbands and the consequences for their traumatized daughters.
From the Publisher
A "Must-Read Book for Spring," Today Show, Weekend Edition

IndieBound Indie Next pick, February 2010

"Superb. . . .Fans of Bohjalian's 11 other novels (including Midwives) know to expect the unexpected and, thanks to his creativity and cunning, readers usually get walloped by one heck of a plot twist by book's end. In Secrets of Eden, the old saw that none of us knows what really goes on in a house when the shades are drawn rings chillingly true."
—Carol Memmott, USA Today

"Superbly written - vivid and horrifying without being melodramatic....a tribute to Bohjalian's storytelling skill."
—The Boston Globe

"Suspenseful. . .searing. . .Bohjalian has written a literary murder mystery that hooks readers early and keeps its secrets until the end. . .Bohjalian's book is about the power of secrets and sacrifice and a warning against jumping to judgment. Those who doubt their faith, he writes, are sometimes the strongest among us."
—Amy Driscoll, The Miami Herald

“Chris Bohjalian has always known how to keep the pages turning. In his latest novel, a small Vermont hamlet has been racked by a well-established couple's apparent murder-suicide. Bohjalian describes the aftermath of that ruinous night in varied voices, effortlessly slipping into the heads of the shaken local pastor, the no-nonsense deputy state attorney, and the best-selling author whose own past draws her to the scene of the crime. . .[A] study of guilt and grief.”
—Entertainment Weekly

"Page-turning. . .Bohjalian has a knack for creating nuanced, detailed first-person female characters. . .SECRETS OF EDEN speeds along pleasingly as both thriller and character study."
—Seattle Times

 “To call this fine novel a mystery would be like calling the Hallelujah Chorus a nice song. . .Bohjalian has written a gripping story that keeps the reader turning pages to find out what really happened...But there is so much more in this rich story. Bohjalian delves into the profound mysteries of human existence. What is faith? What is love? And who are really the angels among us?"
Winston-Salem Journal

"[A] suspenseful page-turner...This book will entertain you with its suspense, but it will also make you think about how hurtful secrets can be."
—Minneapolis Star-Tribune

"Secrets are sprinkled throughout a Chris Bohjalian novel like loose change spilled from the pockets of a master storyteller. . .exquisite. . .magic is rediscovered in 'Secrets of Eden.'"
Tom Mayer, Lake City Reporter

“Bohjalian has built a reputation on his rich characters and immersing readers in diverse subjects—homeopathy, animal rights activism, midwifery—and his latest surely won’t disappoint. The morning after her baptism into the Rev. Stephen Drew’s Vermont Baptist church, Alice Hayward and her abusive husband are found dead in their home, an apparent murder-suicide. Stephen, the novel’s first narrator, is so racked with guilt over his failure to save Alice that he leaves town. Soon, he meets Heather Laurent, the author of a book about angels whose own parents’ marriage also ended in tragedy. Stephen’s deeply sympathetic narration is challenged by the next two narrators: deputy state attorney Catherine Benincasa, whose suspicions are aroused initially by Stephen’s abrupt departure (and then by questions about his relationship with Alice), and Heather, who distances herself from Stephen for similar reasons and risks the trip into her dark past by seeking out Katie, the Haywards’ now-orphaned 15-year-old daughter who puts into play the final pieces of the puzzle, setting things up for a touching twist. Fans of Bohjalian’s more exotic works will miss learning something new, but this is a masterfully human and compassionate tale.”
—Publishers Weekly, starred and boxed review

Bohjalian "drops bombshell clues...and weaves subtle nuances of doubt and intrigue into a taut, read-in-one-sitting murder mystery."
—Booklist, starred and boxed review

"Bohjalian's most splendid accomplishment to date. . .A fantastic choice for book clubs, this novel deals beautifully with controversial topics of domestic abuse, faith, and adultery without resorting to sensationalism. Breathtaking."
—Library Journal, starred review

“Specificity and complexity and. . .a somber power.”
—Kirkus Reviews

Praise for Skeletons at the Feast
“Suspenseful. . .romantic. . .a deeply satisfying novel.” 
The Washington Post Book World
"Poignant. . .Harrowing. . . Bohjalian has given us an important addition to the story of World War II."
The Boston Globe
 “Ingenious. . .compelling. . .Judging who's right or wrong is difficult and one senses that's just the way Bohjalian wants it.” 
— Los Angeles Times
“Mixes the nail-biting brutality of The Kite Runner with the emotional intimacy of Anne Frank's diary."
Austin American-Statesman
Praise for The Double Bind
The Double Bind is simply one of the best written, most compelling, artfully woven novels to grace bookshelves in years. Immediately after the spellbinding surprise ending, readers will want to begin again at the first page. It’s THAT good.”
Associated Press
“Artfully constructed and fiercely felt. . . Bohjalian. . .has deliberately wandered into thriller territory. . .He's playing with our minds in a way that ultimately evokes not Fitzgerald but that master of deviousness, Alfred Hitchcock."  
The Miami Herald
"Terrifying. . .Laurel is an unforgettable, vulnerable, complicated character."
The Los Angeles Times

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Read an Excerpt

From Chapter One

Stephen Drew

As a minister I rarely found the entirety of a Sunday service depressing. But some mornings disease and despair seemed to permeate the congregation like floodwaters in sandbags, and the only people who stood during the moment when we shared our joys and concerns were those souls who were intimately acquainted with nursing homes, ICUs, and the nearby hospice. Concerns invariably outnumbered joys, but there were some Sundays that were absolute routs, and it would seem that the only people rising up in their pews to speak needed Prozac considerably more than they needed prayer. Or yes, than they needed me.

On those sorts of Sundays, whenever someone would stand and ask for prayers for something relatively minor—a promotion, traveling mercies, a broken leg that surely would mend—I would find myself thinking as I stood in the pulpit, Get a spine, you bloody ingrate! Buck up! That lady behind you is about to lose her husband to pancreatic cancer, and you’re whining about your difficult boss? Oh, please! I never said that sort of thing aloud, but I think that’s only because I’m from a particularly mannered suburb of New York City, and so my family has to be drunk to be cutting. I did love my congregation, but I also knew that I had an inordinate number of whiners.

The Sunday service that preceded Alice Hayward’s baptism and death was especially rich in genuine human tragedy, it was just jam-packed with the real McCoy—one long ballad of ceaseless lamentation and pain. Moreover, as a result of that morning’s children’s message and a choir member’s solo, it was also unusually moving. The whiners knew that they couldn’t compete with the legitimate, no- holds- barred sort of torment that was besieging much of the congregation, and so they kept their fannies in their seats and their prayer requests to themselves.

That day we heard from a thirty- four- year- old lawyer who had al­ready endured twelve weeks of radiation for a brain tumor and was now in his second week of chemotherapy. He was on steroids, and so on top of everything else he had to endure the indignity of a sudden physical resemblance to a human blowfish. He gave the children’s message that Sunday, and he told the children—toddlers and girls and boys as old as ten and eleven—who surrounded him at the front of the church how he’d learned in the last three months that while some an­gels might really have halos and wings, he’d met a great many more who looked an awful lot like regular people. When he started to de­scribe the angels he’d seen—describing, in essence, the members of the church Women’s Circle who drove him back and forth to the hospital, or the folks who filled his family’s refrigerator with fresh veg­etables and homemade carrot juice, or the people who barely knew him yet sent cards and letters—I saw eyes in the congregation grow dewy. And, of course, I knew how badly some of those  half- blind old ladies in the Women’s Circle drove, which seemed to me a further in­dication that there may indeed be angels among us.

Then, after the older children had returned to the pews where their parents were sitting while the younger ones had been escorted to the playroom in the church’s addition so they would be spared the sec­ond half of the service (including my sermon), a fellow in the choir with a lush, robust tenor sang “It is well with my soul,” and he sang it without the accompaniment of our organist. Spafford wrote that hymn after his four daughters had drowned when their ship, the Ville de Havre, collided with another vessel and sank. When the tenor’s voice rose for the refrain for the last time, his hands before him and his long fingers steepling together before his chest, the congregation spontaneously joined him. There was a pause when they finished, fol­lowed by a great forward whoosh from the pews as the members of the church as one exhaled in wonder, “Amen....”

And so when it came time for our moment together of caring and sharing (an expression I use without irony, though I admit it sounds vaguely like doggerel and more than a little New Age), the people were primed to pour out their hearts. And they did. I’ve looked back at the notes I scribbled from the pulpit that morning—the names of the people for whom we were supposed to pray and exactly what ailed them—and by any objective measure there really was a lot of horror that day. Cancer and cystic fibrosis and a disease that would cost a newborn her right eye. A car accident. A house fire. A truck bomb in a land far away. We prayed for people dying at home, in area hospitals, at the hospice in the next town. We prayed for healing, we prayed for death (though we used that great euphemism relief ), we prayed for peace. We prayed for peace in souls that were turbulent and for peace in a corner of the world that was in the midst of a civil war.

By the time I began my sermon, I could have been as inspiring as a tax attorney and people would neither have noticed nor cared. I could have been awful—though the truth is, I wasn’t; my words at the very least transcended hollow that morning—and still they would have been moved. They were craving inspiration the way I crave sun­light in January. 
Nevertheless, that Sunday service offered a litany of the ways we can die and the catastrophes that can assail us. Who knew that the worst was yet to come? (In theory, I know the answer to that, but we won’t go there. At least not yet.) The particular tragedy that would give our little village its grisly notoriety was still almost a dozen hours away and wouldn’t begin to unfold until the warm front had arrived in the late afternoon and early evening and we had all begun to swelter over our dinners. There was so much still in between: the potluck, the baptism, the word.

Not the word, though I do see it as both the beginning and the end: In the beginning was the Word....

There. That was the word in this case. There.

“There,” Alice Hayward said to me after I had baptized her in the pond that Sunday, a smile on her face that I can only call grim. There.

The baptism immediately followed the Sunday service, a good old- fashioned,  once- a- year Baptist dunking in the Brookners’ pond. Behind me I heard the congregation clapping for Alice, including the members of the Women’s Circle, at least one of whom, like me, was aware of what sometimes went on in the house the Haywards had built together on the ridge.

None of them, I know now, had heard what she’d said. But even if they had, I doubt they would have heard in that one word exactly what I did, because that single syllable hadn’t been meant for them. It had been meant only for me.

“There,” I said to Alice in response. Nodding. Agreeing. Af ­firming her faith. A single syllable uttered from my own lips. It was the word that gave Alice Hayward all the reassurance she needed to go forward into the death that her husband may have been envisioning for her—perhaps even for the two of them—for years.

From Chapter Seven

Catherine Benincasa

My husband is a great guy. It doesn’t take a dirtball like George Hayward or Stephen Drew for me to see that. I think those two have a lot more in common than the reverend ever would be willing to admit.

But that’s the thing about men like that. Total denial. Everyone talks about how a battered woman has a complete unwillingness to admit to herself what’s really going on in her life, and I can tell you that the river Denial is indeed pretty freaking wide in the minds of a lot of those victims. The worst, for me, are those cases where some boyfriend or stepfather is abusing the woman’s daughters, and when we finally charge the bastard—when the daughter finally comes for-ward—the woman defends the guy! Takes his side! Insists her own kid must be making this up or exaggerating. Trust me: No  twelve- year- old girl exaggerates when Mom’s boyfriend makes her do things to him with her mouth.

And, clearly, Alice Hayward was no stranger to denial herself. When I returned to my office that Monday after viewing the mess up in Haverill, I learned that Alice had gotten a temporary relief- from- abuse    
order that winter. Had managed to kick her husband’s ornery ass out of the house and—somehow—gotten him to go live for a couple of months at their place on Lake Bomoseen. And then, like so many battered women, had taken him back. Hadn’t even shown up for the hearing a week after the papers were served.

But the men’s rationalizations are even worse. They’ll curl your hair.

Now, Stephen Drew wasn’t using some poor woman’s face as a floor sander, and he wasn’t inflicting himself on some defenseless middle- school girl. (Note I am not being catty and adding “as far as we know.” Because, in my opinion, we do know: He wasn’t.) But he certainly abused his place and his power, and he sure as hell took advantage of women in his congregation. For a minister, the guy had ice in his veins. Lived completely alone, didn’t even have a dog or a cat. He really creeped me out once when he went off on this riff about the Crucifixion as a form of execution. Very scholarly, but later it was clear that even his lawyer had wished he’d dialed down the serial- killer vibe.

And he was, like a lot of the real wife beaters, a great self- deluder.

And, perhaps, a great actor.

That morning I met him, he told me how he’d baptized Alice Hayward the day before and how he should have seen this coming from something she’d said when she came out of the water. I couldn’t decide whether he was overintellectualizing the fact that there was a dead woman in her nightgown on the floor and a dead guy with half a face on the couch, or whether he was so completely in shock that he was finding reasons to feel guilty himself. It wasn’t like he had strangled the woman. It wasn’t like he had shot the creep on the sofa.

Shows you what I know.

It was one of my associates, David Dennison, who first questioned what really had occurred at the Haywards’ the night they both died. David is the medical examiner. He’s tall and  scholarly- looking, and his hair is almost translucently white. His eyes are sunken, a little sad even, but he’s a very funny guy. I’ve worked with three pathologists in two states, and I’ve learned that most MEs are pretty witty. I think if you’re going to do that for a living, you have to appreciate black humor. He’s also an excellent witness, and as a prosecutor I need that in an ME. Cop shows on TV have ruined me: I don’t dare put a dull guy on the stand if I want to keep a jury awake.

In addition, David is a total control freak, and I want that, too. I have seen him go up to a person at a crime scene who is clearly there for the first time and politely take their hands and put their fingers to­gether as if they’re praying. The last thing he wants—the last thing any of us want—is for someone to accidentally screw up a key piece of ev­idence by touching it.

From Chapter Twelve

Heather Laurent

"Hit me again, you drunken fool! Hit me again!”

Of all the things my parents hissed and screamed and snarled at each other over the years, it is the way my mother sneered those words at my father one Christmas Eve when Amanda and I were in elemen­tary school that comes back to haunt me most often and compels me to pray to my angel for solace and peace. I was ten and Amanda was twelve, and neither of us believed any longer in Santa Claus. The four of us had been with friends of my parents’ for Christmas Eve, an an­nual gathering of four distant families that always involved massive amounts of drinking among the parents and desperately awkward si­lences among the children because we all went to different schools. Shortly after midnight my family left, and we were, as usual, the last to leave. In hindsight I have come to realize, my parents were always the last to leave because they were terrified of being alone together in that rambling house and especially in the confined space of the bedroom they were compelled to share.

Our drive home took about an hour, which was how long it would have taken if my father had traveled the two- lane roads at a steady, rea­sonable speed. Instead, however, as inevitably occurred when he was far too drunk to drive, he would creep along perhaps ten or fifteen miles below the posted speed limit and then accelerate wildly when my mother would say—her breath a nauseating and perhaps flammable blowtorch of Johnnie Walker scotch and Eve cigarettes—that he drove like a granny. A ninny. Or she would goad him on by telling him that she had to pee. And so he would accelerate. He would show her. He would drive like a wild man for the next three or four miles, the car careening across the double yellow line in the center of the black pave­ment or swerving off the shoulder so the side panels or the roof of the car would be brushed (or scratched) by the leafless tree branches. He would race at sixty and seventy miles an hour on those tortuous roads, decelerating abruptly only when he had narrowly avoided a collision with an oncoming car or he had navigated a turn with only the barest of clearances. That Christmas Eve we lost a hubcap from the right rear tire when he grazed a farmer’s old stone wall a good ten feet off the road—our white Cutlass Supreme traversing in a blink the frozen ground with its patches of rock- hard ice and snow—and I think only Amanda and I understood how close the call had been. (The next day it would be my grandmother, a guest at our house for Christmas, who would inform my parents that the hubcap was gone when she innocently asked them where it was. They were, as they were most Christ mas days, enduring such excruciating hangovers that they didn’t even bother to venture outside to the driveway to take a look.) All the while Amanda prayed beside me in the backseat, her eyes squeezed shut and her lips silently moving. It has crossed my mind numerous times over the years that the only reason we survived that night was my sister’s terrified entreaties to either an angel or God.

When we got home, I presumed that the worst was over. Given my parents’ relationship, there was absolutely no reason to make that assumption. But I did. Amanda went directly to her room, and I went to the den to see if there was anything at all on television other than the Yule log: essentially a televised fireplace with Christmas carols in the background. My mother sat down with me on the couch and tried to wrap her arm around my shoulders, but that night I was resistant to her embraces. She tried to win me over with a remark about how only a year or two earlier I might have been putting out cookies for Santa and then racing upstairs to bed so I would be asleep when he arrived with his reindeer. But I was in no mood to try to add a patina to what had always been a childhood of Christmas Eves marked by my par­ents’ verbal and, on occasion, physical brawls. Quickly my mother sensed my frame of mind, and even though she was still very drunk, she left. She kissed me on the forehead and stumbled to her feet on shaky legs. She had kicked off her boots as soon as she had walked in the door, but even in her stocking feet she was having trouble negoti­ating the plush living- room carpet. And then, all alone, I clicked back and forth among the four or five television stations we had.

It was perhaps fifteen minutes later that my parents began to argue. I will never know precisely what triggered that one, but it really doesn’t matter. What matters is that soon after they started, I heard the sound of a great amount of glass shattering, and I knew it was the beveled mirror that was suspended by two oak arms above my mother’s dresser—a Victorian piece that I know now was well over one hundred years old. Then my father emerged from the bed­room and stomped toward the top of the stairs, where he paused for a moment at the balcony that ran perhaps fifteen feet along the corri­dor, his hands in fists at his sides as he surveyed the first floor. I gazed up at him, but our eyes never met and I wasn’t altogether sure that he had registered I was there on the living- room couch. He was still in the clothes he had worn that evening, though his shirt was untucked and the top three or four buttons were open. His T-shirt was the color of a peach. His wonderful, creosote- black hair, which had been slicked back at the party, looked now as if he had teased it with spaghetti tongs.
My mother appeared behind him in only her panties and blouse, barefoot, and her own hair—a great flaxen mane—was also in disarray. Her lipstick was smeared like a clown’s, and her mascara was dripping in rivulets down the right side of her face. (It’s possible, I imagine, that it was running from her left eye as well, but I recall noticing at the time that for some reason only her right cheek was streaked with makeup.) She was sobbing and she was furious and she threw herself at him, pounding her fists into his back and shoulders with such force that it looked for a split second as if he would hurtle over the side of the balustrade and fall either one flight into the living room or— worse—a full two flights if he tumbled over the section of balcony that was above the stairs that linked the living room with the finished basement.

“Stop it!” he yelled, grabbing her fists in his hands. “Settle the fuck down! You nearly fucking killed me!”

“You stop it, just stop everything!” she screamed back, a demand that, as unreasonable as it was, might have accomplished its intent if she hadn’t added, “You are pathetic. You are just the most pathetic loser.”

“Pathetic? I’m not so fucking drunk I—”

“‘Fucking’? Why don’t you swear some more in front of your children? Why don’t you tell them what you just called me? Heather, do you want to know what your father just called me?” I hadn’t any idea how to respond to this appeal, and so I murmured—not loud enough for them to hear over the din of the television and their own verbal pyrotechnics—“Don’t fight. Please. Don’t fight.” In my mind I see myself curled up on the couch in the red Christmas skirt from Saks Fifth Avenue and the turtleneck dotted with silver snowflakes I had worn that evening, a throw pillow clutched in my arms as if it were a stuffed animal. I’m sure I was crying, too.

“You’re a drunk, you know that?” my father told her, and he  released her fingers as if they were a fish he was tossing with two hands into a lake, his arms upraised when the movement was done. “You’re a fucking drunk and the poorest fucking excuse for a mother I’ve ever seen. You’re a shrew and—”

He never finished the sentence, because my mother, her hands newly freed, slapped him, and the stinging thwap was so loud that his ears must have been ringing. He brought his palm to his cheek and held it there for a moment. And then he slapped her back, so hard that she toppled backward and landed on the carpet near the top step of the stair­way, one of her legs beneath her and the other splayed out as if she were a dancer trying and failing to perform a split. Her panties, I saw, were soaked through with her blood, and for a second I was terrified she was badly hurt. But then I remembered: My older sister had just started menstruating and our mother had hoped to demystify the notion of a monthly cycle for both of her girls by telling us that she, too, was in the midst of her period. That night she was so profoundly inebriated that when she had removed her tampon when we’d gotten home, she had forgotten to put in a fresh one.

“You’re drunk,” my father scolded her.

“You’re drunk!” she shouted back. “And you’re a drunk, too! You’re a wretched and feeble excuse for a man! Your own father knows it, your mother knows it, your daughters know it. They know. They know.”

She pushed off against the wall and stood to face him. “They know,” she mocked him one more time, and she glanced down at me for the merest of seconds. And so my father smacked her again, but this time she was prepared for the blow and remained on her feet, though her body fell hard against the wall, her head bouncing like a basketball off the Sheetrock and causing the small framed print of a rosebush near her to quiver.

“They know their mother’s a shrew!” he yelled. “That’s what they know! She’s a fucking, bleeding, harpy shrew who can’t even keep her goddamn underwear clean!”

She dropped her hands to her sides in a posture of absolute submissiveness and hissed, “Hit me again, you drunken fool! Hit me again.”

And so he did.

From Chapter Sixteen

Katie Hayward

The social workers and the therapists all wanted to know if Dad ever hit me. The short answer is yes. But it’s complicated. I mean, no kid deserves to be hit, but a smart one doesn’t get in the middle of some of the crap that I did. When your mom and dad are in the midst of an electrified- cage match, you steer clear if you want to keep your teeth. (That’s an exaggeration. A: I have never seen a real cage match, just videos of them on YouTube. And B: I have all my teeth. My father never punched me in the mouth.) Twice I made the mistake of think­ing I could save my mom alone, and both times I got swatted like one of those gross, slow- moving cluster flies we had in the attic. In all fair­ness, the first time Dad walloped me was a mistake on his part. He hadn’t meant to. He was in one of his moods, and I don’t even re­member anymore what set him off, and my mom was crying patheti­cally. They were both in their bathroom, and I could hear them through the walls, and I was at my wit’s end and totally furious with him. Maybe even furious with both of them for living the same rerun over and over and over. And so I went in to yell at my dad. I was a  big-deal thirteen, and I think I was going to tell him to grow up. The scene I walked in on was really weird, because it was after dinner and he was, like, shaving. I knew he was worried that the toy store wasn’t making enough money—even I knew that a shop that sold mostly marionettes and wooden puzzles in an age when everyone wanted a PlayStation or Wii was a pretty lame idea—which meant that he was a little stressed. Still, I have no idea why he was shaving. He was also pretty ham­mered. I’m amazed he could figure out which side of the Bic he was supposed to use on his skin. Anyway, I went in with all this determina­tion, and my timing was just perfect. Totally perfect. He was winding up to whack Mom, who was actually on her knees and pleading with him about who knows what, and I walked straight into his knuckles as he swung them back, taking it right on the ear. And I can tell you that ears have a ton of nerves. I guess hearing cells don’t. But the outer ear?    
Trust me, it hurt like crazy, and my ears rang for hours. I fell against the frame of the door and then, I’m not sure how, wound up on the floor, half in the bedroom and half in the bathroom. Dad didn’t even realize what he’d walloped at first. I think he thought my head was, like, the door. But my mom knew, and she just threw herself at him, leaping to her feet like a missile, which of course caused him to throw her down onto the floor beside me. And that’s when my dad looked at me like, “Hello? What are you doing here?”

The other time he did hit me on purpose. It was a year later, and we had begun to figure out just how much we hated each other: I hated him for what he did to Mom, and he hated me for knowing he was a jerk and mean and pathetic. And that’s the thing—I knew he was pathetic. I don’t care how successful his restaurant or his stores were. My mom wasn’t the loser: He was. And so he probably despised me. But, in all fairness, it was only that one time that he meant to hit me. Just like that evening he nailed me by accident in the bathroom, he hadn’t hit Mom yet. But I could see where it was going. It was a Friday morning, and the bank was experimenting with casual dress on Friday, so the bankers didn’t have to look as formal as usual. Mom was wearing a pair of black jeans. Nice jeans—not mom jeans. They were tight, and she looked very pretty and very young in them. My dad didn’t know she owned them. Anyway, he had left early to play golf that morning, and so my mom had figured she could wear them to work. Unfortunately, my dad forgot his golf shoes, and so he came back for them and saw what Mom was wearing. His voice got that creepy, sarcastic,  I’m- your- daddy tone to it. He almost sounded British when he got like that. And that was always the overture. The warm- up. You knew what was coming next. Mom and I were in the kitchen when he returned, and I was eating a Pop-Tart or something at the counter and making sure I had wedged every binder I would need that day at school into my backpack. (My backpack is always a total wreck.) Mom immediately dropped the lipstick she’d been holding in her fingers into her purse when he started leaning into her. His golf shoes had these pointy metal studs on the soles, and he grabbed one by the top and was holding it like a knife. He ordered her upstairs to the bedroom, where he told her that she was going to put on clothes that didn’t embarrass her or him or his daughter.

And so I told him that Mom’s jeans sure didn’t embarrass me. I said I liked them and thought she looked great. He turned to me and hissed something about how this was none of my business and to get ready for school. I shrugged and held up my backpack with both hands. (And it really did take both hands, because it always seemed to weigh as much as a case of beer, which, just for the record, I only know weighs a ton because I carried them in from the supermarket when I would help Mom with the grocery shopping. In the months after my dad killed my mom, I smoked a lot of dope, but I was never into beer. Too fattening. And it reminded me too much of Dad.) I told him I was all ready for school. And so he said in that case I should go. And Mom said I should, too, and she was practically begging me to get out of the house. But I didn’t want to leave her like this. To leave her to him. So I told my dad that Mom’s jeans were fine and to let it go. I said he didn’t want to miss his tee time. Mom was, like, babbling about how she was going right upstairs to change, she was, and she scooted around Dad so she was between the kitchen and the stairs, and she yelled back at me in a voice that was bizarrely cheerful considering what was going on that I didn’t want to miss the school bus. And I thought, fuck the school bus, this has gone too far. And, in fact, I may even have said that. I can’t recall for sure. All I remember for certain is my dad glaring at me and his eyes getting narrow: Think of a newt. And then, out of the blue, he rammed the toe of the golf shoe into my stomach. It didn’t hurt that much, and it didn’t knock the wind out of me, but it did cause me to drop my backpack and coil up like a spring. My mom screamed at him to stop, but she didn’t need to worry. He was totally shocked at what he’d done. He was stunned. Then he shook his head in disgust and said I was every bit the slut my mom was and walked out of the house with his golf shoes.

That was the only other time he hit me. And it led to the longest cold war my parents ever had. It took him longer than usual to get all syrupy and apologize, maybe because he’d never had the chance that morning to vent the full fury that was always smoldering just under­neath his skin. Also, he needed to apologize to me, too, this time. Which he did. I wound up with a new iPod and a hundred bucks on iTunes. I believe it would be months before he would hit Mom again. Not till the autumn, I think. But when he started up again, things would spiral quickly through the holidays. I’m amazed it took Mom until February to find the backbone to get the restraining order and kick him out of the house. It wasn’t just that he was becoming so un­bearable to be around and so weirdly scary. It was that by then she had Stephen Drew in her life.

From the Hardcover edition.


Meet the Author

CHRIS BOHJALIAN is the critically acclaimed author of twelve novels, including the New York Times bestsellers Skeletons at the Feast, The Double Bind, and Midwives. His novel, Midwives, was a number one New York Times bestseller and a selection of Oprah’s Book Club. His work has been translated into more than 25 languages and twice became movies (Midwives and Past the Bleachers). He lives in Vermont with his wife and daughter.

Visit him at www.ChrisBohjalian.com or on Facebook.

From the Hardcover edition.

Brief Biography

Lincoln, Vermont
Date of Birth:
August 12, 1961
Place of Birth:
White Plains, New York
Amherst College

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Secrets of Eden 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 248 reviews.
greedy_reader More than 1 year ago
Chris Bohjalian's novels never let me down, and this is my favorite since Midwives. It's a great read, with characters I cared about and a twisty plot that kept me turning the pages. I couldn't put it down! And the story stayed with me long after I'd finished reading. Lots to talk about. Perfect for my book group!
ChiliHead1987 More than 1 year ago
It is rare for me to randomly pick a book and it be worth the time and effort. This book was one of those, a MASSIVE SURPRISE! I had read several of Bohjalian's books--mostly to mediocre enjoyment. I was hesitant to read this one, but once it was in my hands and I started reading, that was that until the last revelatory page was turned! The story centers around a pastor, a writer, and a town. The pastor has baptized a woman doomed to be murdered and is haunted by what he thinks is a pre-event message from her. The writer is obsessed with what's happening in the town--she focuses on angels and the like. The town itself is trying to reel from the murder-suicide, help the orphan cope, and get past its new grizzly recognition. Bohjalian doesn't miss a beat as he tells a truly masterful, original story.
angeleyesAS More than 1 year ago
This story begins with a murder / suicide. After Alice Hayward is baptized she goes home where her husband, George, in one of his rages, strangles her to death before shooting himself. The murder / suicide stuns the town but not as much as the Reverend, who was having an affair with the late wife and the deceased couple's fifteen year old daughter, Katie. Stephen leaves town, but Vermont Deputy State Attorney Catherine Benincasa has doubts and suspects the Reverend of murder. This is a story about spousal abuse and the women who tolerate it. It is also the story of a man having lost his faith and of an orphaned child due to the murder / suicide. The mystery begins with the narration of the local pastor, Stephen Drew. His perspective is of honesty and guilt at not having done more to avert the tragedy. Then through another narrator's eyes, the local investigator of the crime, Prosecuting Attorney, Catherine Benincasa paints a different picture, which seems to blur the Pastor's telling. Third, an aspiring author, Heather Laurent, writing about angels, has her input. Fourth, the fifteen year old orphan, Katie Hayward, daughter of the victims tells her view point. Domestic abuse and the secrets of a marriage take the reader on an unforgettable, compelling journey!
TorVM More than 1 year ago
I've been devouring all of Chris' books since I fell in love with the DOUBLE BIND and I have to say that this might be my new favorite. I was completely sucked in from the beginning, Stephen Drew is one of the most interesting, fascinating and well-developed characters I have "met" in a long time. I could NOT put this down, and as usual, Chris Bohjalian delivers a great twist-ending!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was looking forward to this book for months and was not surprised--he once again delivers an amazing emotional journey. A riveting read on those long winter nights.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book "Secrets of Eden" is about two murders in a small town in Vermont, a traumatic story of domestic violence. The plot to the story is intriguing, and yet, the author seemed to fall from grace of delivering. The story begins with the pastor's voice, Stephen Drew. The facts from his perspective is so incredibly boring. The next person's view is that of the state's attorney, Catherine Benincasa. There was so much added in from her life that didn't give anything to the story. Throughout much of the novel, I find this. It's what I call filler, or added words to take up space. This is ypically seen in term papers from students that need to make up so many words. I wouldn't have expected it from a published author. Another thing I find really annoying about these chapters are the added characters without any introductions. I found myself looking back to see if I missed something...like a page. The next point of view comes from an author who suffered the same tragedy, Heather Laurent, who heard of the event and came to town to support the orphaned daughter. The last person to tell her tale is the orphaned daughter, Katie Hayward. Chris Bohjalian, the author, presented her character throughout the book as a stereotypical speaking teen, as in, her language "I, like totally this or that". Than I noticed her teen language fade in her chapters. That confused me a bit as to whose tale I was reading. I read to the end and Bohjalian waited until the last sentence to reveal "the big mystery". That would have been great in novel that would have been written with "edge of your seat" suspense, but in this case, I just wanted to know so I could stop reading this book. I read it to the end, because the plot had such great potential, I kept hoping for that magnitude. It just isn't here.
lilpiggie More than 1 year ago
I finished this book in the space of two days, with long sittings, mind you. The story pulled me in right away and I was determined to see if I could figure out the mystery, knowing that Chris Bohjalian has been known to throw in an unexpected twist at the end. At one point nearly three-quarters into the story he either intentionally or unintentionally left a piece of foreshadowing that helped me figure it out, though I was not truly sure I was right until the very end. Each of Bohjalian's books seem to touch on a tough subject and this is no different. A couple is immersed in domestic abuse and the people around them, as is the reality, may or may not see it until it is too late. Those who did see the violence are riddled with guilt about not preventing both of their deaths from apparent murder/suicide. What has happened to them as a family is portrayed vividly and the young daughter, friends and loved ones left behind to deal with the aftermath is also quite touching and realistic. I found the way in which the story was told to be very interesting. The author begins by sharing the thoughts of the local pastor, who has lost a congregant whom he was obviously very attached to. His perspective is of honesty and guilt at having not done something more to avert the tragedy. However, just as you let his narrative sink in, the local investigator of the crime begins her opposing narrative. Suddenly, the innocent pastor seems anything but. She calls into question everything you think you learned from his version of the events surrounding the crime. Following the investigator is the wholly different narrative of an author who has become involved in the situation because she relates to the crime. Her parents died in a similar fashion and she becomes intwined in the lives of everyone involved. This is where I was a bit frustrated feeling as if the story was wandering a bit, but it did come back together. Lastly, the teenaged, orphaned daughter of the slain couple tells things from her point of view. The author does a great job of portraying the voice of a teenager and shares her disappointment and longing to understand why her parents came to the end that they did. This is another excellent darkly realistic story by Chris Bohjalian and I definitely recommend it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was less that impressed with this book. I knew what the ending was going to be right from the start. I came very close to putting it down and starting a different book ... now I wish I would have.
Booklover87 More than 1 year ago
I absolutely love Chris Bohjalian's novels. Secrets of Eden did not disappoint. He is a great writer who understands the human condition and makes the reader empathize with all of his characters. I love that he broke the novel down into four different parts, each part narrated by a different character who had a very different perception on the deaths of a wife and husband. This novel was absolutely fantastic.
neclem1935 More than 1 year ago
I did not enjoy this book ad would not recommend to friends.
tabOH More than 1 year ago
I can barely describe how much I enjoyed this book. As always I feel I know Bohjalian characters as friends. It is a mystery, but one with much more heart than most mysteries. The story development as told by each of the main characters is intriguing. I would highly recommend this book to anyone.
Michigan-Fan More than 1 year ago
After reading The Double Bind and Skeletons at the Feast I went back and read all the Bohjalian books I could find. Each book is so different then the last unlike some authors who just seem to repeat the same storyline. The new Book; Secrets of Eden seems predictable in some places but as you get further into the story you realize you were surprised after all. This is another fantastic read by a really fantastic writer. I would recommend it highly to anyone! It is especially great for book clubs with guided reading questions provided. If you can only chose one book to read this winter, choose this one!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I LOVED Double Bind, which is one of my favorite all-time books (in my top 5 list), because I was totally blown away with the ending and it haunts me still when i think about it. I also loved Skeletons at the Feast which is a wonderful book. So, I couldn't wait to start reading Secrets of Eden. I hate to say this......but it was just OK in my opinion. I thought parts of it were too slow, and, while I was surprised with the ending, it didn't knock my socks off like Double Bind. There were parts in this book that I had to push myself to keep reading as I was getting bored, but I kept going only because I figured the ending would make all the slow parts worthwhile. I gave this book three stars. It was good. It was OK, but I was a little disappointed maybe because Double Bind and Skeletons at the Feast were SO good.....they're tough acts to follow. I recommended reading Secrets of Eden - it's still better than most books out there now - but it didn't completely live up to my expectations.
bettymh More than 1 year ago
It has become a tradition for me to buy Chris Bohjalian's latest book as soon as it's available, read late into the night, and finish it the next day. This was the case with Secrets of Eden which had me hooked from the first few pages. Days later, I'm still completely under its spell, thinking about the characters I feel I came to know and pondering the terrible choices some of them had to face. Secrets of Eden will be on my mind for a long time. I'm equally haunted by the deeply tragic story in this novel, the whole specter of domestic abuse that it reflects, and the profound truth that, in human affairs, things are complex and never quite what they seem. I love the way the story is conveyed through four narrators, thus underscoring the truth that we do so live each in our own reality and, as character Stephen Drew (the small town pastor) says, "all of our stories are suspect." Secrets of Eden is mesmerizing. As the story unfolds, you enter the world of each of the characters and are drawn deep into the tragic event and all it means. And you will be thinking about the sad reality of domestic abuse for a long time. Kudos to Chris Bohjalian for raising our awareness about such an important problem by bringing it to life in this compelling way. What a great story-teller and masterful writer.
harstan More than 1 year ago
In Haverill at the Vermont Baptist Church, Reverend Stephen Drew baptizes Alice Hayward. Afterward, Alice goes home only her spouse George in one of his rages strangles her to death before shooting himself. The murder-suicide stuns the townsfolk, but not as much as the Reverend who was having an affair with the late wife and the deceased couple's fifteen year old daughter Katie. Stephen leaves town, but Vermont Deputy State Attorney Catherine Benincasa has doubts about what occurred and suspects the Reverend got away with murder. Distraught Stephen meets author Heather Laurent whose parents died tragically like that of Katie when she was fourteen. She wants to help him and Katie adjust as she knows at least the teen will never obtain a closure. However, she, like Catherine, begins to wonder if her new lover Stephen killed the couple or just the husband. She leaves him to help the surviving Hayward. Told in the first person in four parts, fans will be hooked throughout. Stephen importunes incredible levels of sympathy from readers who feel his pain in Part I, but that is peeled away in Part II by Catherine (the weakest section) and Part III by Heather until everyone converges with a great finish in Part IV when Katie tells her side of the story. Secrets of Eden is a tremendous character driven conundrum that looks deep at the battered spouse syndrome and its impact on an offspring and to a lesser degree the community that prefers silence from the lambs. Harriet Klausner
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BrandyGirl More than 1 year ago
I am halfway done with this book. It is very good but I only gave it four stars because I enjoyed other books by this author more than this one. If you like his stories, you will enjoy this.
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Bookworm59LS More than 1 year ago
The only reason I got this book is because I saw the LMN movie with John Stamos as Pastor Drew. I'd always believed that the books are so much better than the movie. There is much more detail here than what was in the movie but I don't think it really added value to the story overall. I'm sort of disappointed so will definitely be wary of another book by Bohjalian.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book and did not want to put it down. I really liked how the writer told the story from 4 different perspectives, as it was neat to see how each person felt about the tragedy that took place. The twist was somewhat predictable but it did not take away from the story, for me at least. I will definitely read other works from this author. There was also a Lifetime movie made based on this book and I definitely want to see it now. John Stamos plays the Reverend in it, which i have a hard time picturing, but im sure will be good.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago