Stephen Drew is the minister of one of the main churches. It's Vermont, not exactly the Bible belt, but one of his flock, Alice Hayward, has asked to be traditionally baptized in a nearby lake. Less than a day later, she will be murdered, strangled, and her abusive husband will also be dead from a gunshot wound. Murder-suicide.
Not that unusual. George Hayward was in many ways a classic batterer. A successful entrepreneur with numerous sources of stress, he isolated Alice and then started fights with her, especially when he was drunk. A smart man, he rarely hit her where it showed--the back of the head, the small of the back. She's attacked for her bad cooking, how much money she spends, and especially for provocative dressing and inadvertent flirting. Somtimes kids get the abuse too, but their daughter Katie is generally able to stay out of the way. Alice even tries a restraining order, but in the end, the contrite George is able to move back.
So the crime happens, and it turns out noted spiritual writer Heather Laurent is in town, talking at a conference, appearing on a local NPR show, and signing at a bookstore (it would have to be Northshire--I wonder how the signing went...at 10 am). She's drawn to the tragedy, since it mimics a tragedy from her own life. She really wants to help Katie, but she finds herself also drawn to Stephen Drew, particularly because of some of the self-damning comments he's made that have been captured in the press. The attraction is mutual, and he's ready to leave the town, but...some of his moves begin to look suspicious by law enforcement.
OK, that's enough plot. I don't really want to give too much away, because the story has some interesting twists going on. It's told from several perspectives, and each voice puts a different spin on the situation and the characters, while still driving the plot. Like many of Bohjalian's stories, there's a suspense angle to the story, and like what I assume to be another trademark of Bohjalian fiction, there are several characters that you could have a field day about, arguing about their motives and whether they've made good or bad judgments and decisions. The reverend, for example, comes off very differently, depending on whether he or someone else is telling the story.
So I finished the book and thought, "So that's why so many book clubs read him." I didn't see some of that coming, and there are some things I'd want to talk about. Admittedly, there's an earnestness to the writing that's not going to work for everybody. And the angel writer is a little tough for some of the most vocal of my customer base, but once you read her perspective, she works better. Oh, and let me say there are plenty of folks in my customer base that will be totally amenable to her perspective. It's just that some of the ones who don't are also the folks who will write to me and visit and want to know why I've gravitated to writers who believe in angels. And I will reply that I am writing about a writer who is writing about a writer who believes in angels, a very different thing, and by the end of the book (no further hints), you see why she is there. And now Gloria is going to read the ending first. What am I going to do with you?
So the lunch! As I've mentioned before, we're hosting Chris Bohjalian (photo credit Victoria Blewer) at a special lunch on Friday, February 11th. It's 12 Noon at Lake Park Bistro (pictured in Lake Park, as well as the view from the window of Lake Michigan) and you must buy your ticket ahead of time. I hope...HOPE..to sell out so I can stop panicking about this. Also if we sell out, I can put together more of these kinds of intimate events.
Here's an interesting aside, the top five Bohjalian paperback books by demand from Ingram:
1. The Double Bind
2. Skeletons at the Feast
4. Before You Know Kindness
5. Trans-Sister Radio
Email Stacie (she's more organized than me about these sorts of things) or call the store (414-332-1181) for tickets, which are $60. That includes the goat cheese salad, a choice of three entrees (chicken, halibut, or cheese ravioli), apple tart, nonalcoholic beverage, tax, tip, and a copy of Secrets of Eden in paperback, which I should say is going to be available in paperback on February 1st. Already read it in hardcover? Then you like it enough to send it as a gift. You can also get a $10 gift card to Boswell instead. You can pick up your ticket beforehand, hold it for that day, or have it mailed to you. You must buy the tix ahead of time, however, and they are not refundable (because we need to pay the restaurant, and to be totally up front, we've already put down a deposit).
Have you been to Lake Park Bistro before? It's beautiful. And the room we have overlooks the lake. How's that for spectactular? This is not like one of those function rooms where you're in the basement.
That said, you might want to go to a traditional free author appearance. There is one, but it's not ours. In fact, it's at that bookstore at the B&N Mayfair. Most like at 7. If you do go, tell Mr. Bohjalian that I sent you! That way, I don't get the visit but I still get the points. And I do collect the points.