The first Chris Bohjalian I read was Midwives, about a lay midwife who attends a birth in the middle of the night and gets stranded in the snowy, icy weather. The birth goes wrong, the mother appears to have lost a fatal amount of blood, and the midwife must make a life-or-death decision. She attempts an emergency c-section, knowing that the mother will not survive (since the midwife is not a doctor and not equipped for such a procedure). The woman dies and the baby lives. However, was the mother really at death's door, or could her death have been averted? I love the way Bohjalian's books make me think about right and wrong, and the truth in between.
Trans-Sister Radio is about a man who is in love with a woman, but who decides to become a woman. He goes through the whole sex change procedure (and I learned a great deal about what is involved in that), and the woman in his life, who is not a lesbian, has to consider whether to stay with him. Is she in love with the man he is, or the person he is? Again, Bohjalian forces the reader to question what she knows to be true.
Water Witches educated me about the world of water dousing (the practice of locating hidden water wells, buried metals, gemstones, or other objects). Environmentalists are pitted against ski resort developers in this intriguing story involving family, honesty, and ambition.
Before You Know Kindness is a wonderful, thought-provoking New England family saga about a gun accident, hunting, vegetarianism, and intense family dynamics. Some of the story is based on Bohjalian's experiences, such as working in a lobster restaurant and deciding then and there to become a vegetarian. An animal rights activist is pitted against his hunter brother, and both of their families become involved in the feud.
The Buffalo Soldier is about a couple who tragically lost their nine-year-old daughters in a freak flood accident. They end up taking in a foster child, an African-American boy. The couple who live across the street befriend the boy and teach him about buffalo soldiers (African-American cavalry troopers). Bohjalian continues to share his gift of bringing complex characters and plots to life. He explores interesting questions of race, grief, and love.
The Double Bind is my least favorite of Bohjalian's novels, even though it was well written as always. I was engaged in the story--I thought about the book when not reading it, which is always a good sign. I knew there was a plot twist, but I did not deduce what it was going to be until I came upon it. (I'm that way with mysteries, too--just try to enjoy the story and not think ahead to what might happen--I prefer to be surprised.) I found it interesting to note some parallels with a nonfiction book, Strange Piece of Paradise, the real-life story of a female biker who was brutally attacked and years later, tries to unravel the mystery and unleash her own anxieties about the incident. The Double Bind brings the tragedy of the homeless and the mentally ill to the light of day, and also sensitively portrays the collateral damage done to women who are sexually assualted and violated. Bohjalian is a talented writer, and the books of his I enjoy the most are the ones where you can really get inside of the characters' souls. Because of the nature of the plot (and the manipulation of the reader's mind, which is skillfully done), fully engaging with the characters was more difficult with TheDouble Bind.
I have two more books on my shelves to read, when I'm ready for another treat: Secrets of Eden and Skeletons at the Feast. The only other novel of Bohjalian's I have not yet read is The Law of Similars, one of his earlier books.
I got to meet Chris Bohjalian once at Annie Bloom's, when he came through Portland on a book tour for Before You Know Kindness. In the old days before children, Mike and I went to see/hear a lot of authors (TC Boyle, Anne Lamott, Kazuo Ishiguro, Molly Gloss, Ruth Ozeki, John Barth, John Irving, etc.). Bohjalian was one of the most engaging, dynamic authors I have had the pleasure of seeing. I bought several copies of the book to give as gifts, and as I was waiting in line for his autographs, Kieran (3 or 4 at the time) bought a Curious George book. Chris Bohjalian signed his Curious George book for him! That is one book that will not be given away. I look forward to sinking my teeth into more of Bohjalian's novels in the future. I highly recommend his books.