Saturday, March 20, 2010

Secrets of Eden by Chris Bohjalian

When I learned Chris Bohjalian had written a new book, Secrets of Eden, I was very excited. Excited, but skeptical. The very first book I ever read of Bohjalian's, Midwives, blew my socks off. It was amazing! Since then (approximately 10 years ago), I've read several other of Bohjalian's books - with mixed reviews. None has thrilled me the way Midwives did all those years ago. For me, Bohjalian's books have always been very hit or miss. And that's why I say I was skeptical when I heard he had published a new book. Well, I'm happy and excited to report that Secrets of Eden is a winner!

Secrets of Eden tells the story of Reverend Steven Drew, a pastor in a small church in Vermont. When his parishioner, Alice Hayward, is murdered by her husband in a murder-suicide, Drew begins to doubt his faith. He is saved from complete despair by the appearance of Heather Laurent, an author of two very successful books about angels, of all things.

Heather Laurent is the child of parents who both died in a murder-suicide and she identifies with Katie, the Hayward's now orphaned daughter. Heather offers herself as a counselor to both Stephen and Katie. When Stephen steps down from the pulpit of his church immediately after Alice's funeral, the state's attorney begins to question Stephen's reasons. And when Alice's secrets are uncovered, more questions begin to arise.

Bohjalian has done a masterful job crafting this novel. It is divided into four parts, each told from the perspective of a different person - Stephen Drew, Catherine Benincasa (the state's attorney), Heather Laurant and Katie, the Hayward's teen aged daughter. As I read each section I fully accepted each person's perspective as right and true. All the characters have very believable and trustworthy voices. But, of course, someone is lying. Or at least mistaken. In addition, Bohjalian does a wonderful job of foreshadowing. His characters hint at things that serve as a trail of crumbs to the truth. Brilliant. This was a very clever way of structuring this novel and it worked well.

The other thing that really jumped out at me and is something I remember so clearly from Midwives, is that Bohjalian is very skilled at writing in a woman's voice. I found Catherine Benincasa's voice to be very authentic. I've found this to be fairly unusual when men are writing female characters. Kudos to Bohjalian for that.

One thing I want to warn against is that from my and other descriptions of this book, one may get the idea that this novel is overly religious, or New Agey or even that it is a police procedural or suspense/thriller. It is none of those. It is a wonderful novel full of flawed characters who are simply trying to make sense of two senseless deaths and the aftermath of them.

I would give Secrets of Eden 4 stars - I really liked it.

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