Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Book Review: 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.


14 comments:

WaistingTime said...

I have to admit that I was disappointed in it. Still waiting for him to strike me again like he did with Midwives. I have such a stack of books that I have not had time to get to that I seem to be getting very picky about what I read. If I am not drawn to the book, I put it down and try another.

Diane said...

Great review Pam. I rated this one the same as you. I like it but it was not his best IMO.

Mommakin said...

I only read one of his books (right now the title is escaping me) and I didn't like it. I started pulling away when I saw his name. I admit it's snobbery, but when someone gets too prolific... Anyway - I may give this one a go and I'll definitely put Midwives on my list!

Midlife Jobhunter said...

I'm glad. So many of my favorite writers have come out with such disappointing books in the past two years. I hate that.

MamaOtwins+1 said...

I love finding new books to read. And I've never read this or midwives, so maybe I should try it!

Nikki Thornton said...

Liked your post. Someday I hope to write a book where the royalties will pay for the copies I give away.
:-)
Nikki

Anita said...

I liked what I began to read, but I just didn't have the time the week I had it from the library. I'll give it another try.

Jen said...

I just have one question: How do you keep finding these great books?!?

Karen said...

Quit talking about such great-sounding books! My list is already longer than I can manage!

Colleen said...

That sounds like a really gripping book. I don't know that I'll be picking up any books that have lawyers or trials in them any time soon, but maybe in a few months . . .

Thank you for stopping by Cheap Wine and Cookies!

boliyou said...

I've never read anything by Bohjalian, but this one's now on my TBR list. Thanks for the review!

Ellen said...

Thanks Pam, I was just looking for a new book to read. I will try it. Great review!

Esther said...

I'm also a big fan of Chris Bohjalian so I will have to check this out. He writes in a very interesting, thought-provoking way about complex issues.

"Cottage By The Sea" said...

I can't wait to read this book. I loved Midwives too!

 

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