I'm often asked by friends to recommend a book. Whenever I'm asked this, I'm flattered to do so and happy to make a recommendation. Because of this, I tend to keep a mental list of good books to recommend to friends if the question comes up.
I've got a new one to add to that list. "The Double Bind" by Chris Bojhalian.
If you've not read it, I highly recommend. I also recommend going into the book completely unaware of any thing more than the dust jacket blurb will tell you.
That said, this is one of those book that will be hard to talk about without addressing the plot twists and revelations that come in the final fifty or so pages. I will try to keep those comments to a minimum until later in this post and I'll try to warn you again when I'm getting into huge spoiler territory.
"The Double Bind" starts out on a quiet country rode with our protagonist, Laurel, out for a Sunday afternoon bicycle ride. She is met by two men who jump out of a van and attempt to assualt her. Laurel escapes the ordeal with some broken bones because of the clips on her pedals and her holding onto to the bike for dear life.
The novel starts off with this brutal attack and then moves forward seven years. Laurel now works as an advocate for the homeless at a local program. In the course of her duties, she meets Charlie. Charlie passes away, leaving behind a box full of old photographs and negatives. Because of her interest in photography, Lauren is asked to look into the photos and see if they might be used to create an exhibit to honor Charlie's life and bring some publicity to the group she works for.
What follows is a slow spiral into obsession as Laurel becomes obsessed with putting together the pieces from the photos and discovering who Charlie was. And also, she wants to know why he has a a photo that appears to be her riding along the road where she was attacked.
Interestingly, Bojahalan incoroprates elements from F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby" in this novel. As Laurel investigates, she finds that Charlie might be the son of the infamous Jay Gatsby from the novel.
OK, now is the point at which if you haven't read the story, you should turn back or stop reading.
At first, I was skeptical about the incorporation of elements of Gatsby into this story. To make the character from that story part of the real world of this novel seemed a bit of a stretch at first and it slowly began to make me have my doubts as the novel progressed. However, once it's revealed that this is a world Laurel has created for herself in an attempt to create meaning to the horrible attack she endured seven years before, it all makes sense.
In the last few pages of the novel, we discover that Laurel didn't escape attack. She was raped and brutally so--three times. Two by one man, one by the other. They savaged her and left her bleeding and for dead on the road side. Laurel convinced herself that she'd escaped attack by hanging onto the bike and being clipped in, but it wasn't true. This manifests itself in her refusal to ride a bicycle any more after the attack--seeing the bicycle as her savior, but also knowing deep down what has happened and not wanting to deal with it.
As it turns out, Laurel had a pyschotic break. She invents her own reality and is obsessed with the Gatsby novel. She creates or fills in entire bits of conversation in her head to fuel this obession and descent into delusion.
But yet, that's not the biggest "holy cow" moment of the last few pages.
Part of the aftermath of the attack is that Laurel has an attraction to older men. She is dating one in the book, who has two daughters. One is the beautiful one who wants to act and is everything you think a typical girl of that age should be. The other is awkward, not as beautiful and show as having a bit of a socially awkward relationship with the world. She is less concerned with what people think, even wearing a Junior Mint on her ear and claiming it's an earring.
In the final pages of the novel, we learn there were no daughters. It was a fiction Laurel created for herself to explain to herself what she was withdrawing from her boyfriend. But it goes a bit deeper. In the girls we see both sides of how Laurel sees herself. It's a hint of the revelation that she had a pyschotic break and how Laurel sees herself pre and post-attack. In this revelation, the book takes on an interesting twist and leaves you sitting back, reassessing everything you just read and wondering just where the reality lay.
We do see hints of it...and for the most part, we can figure out what was real and what wasn't upon further examination. The novel end with Laurel being put into a mental facility for her own protection and her inabilty to deal with reality. We hear bits and pieces of the medical reports on her as the story unfolds, but we can easily assume these are reports on Charlie. It's only when we figure out that its Laurel that we can look back and see how Bojahalan was setting up the entire ending right in front of us, but not giving us the entire picture.
It's one of those books where the surprise works and it caught me totally unaware. I suspected there was something more to the story than we were getting, but I never quite expected this. And seeing it, it made the entire reading experience that much more rich and enjoyable.
posted by Michael Hickerson at 4/07/2007 04:40:00 PM