Chris Bohjalian is the bestselling author of Midwives, which was an Oprah book club selection and enjoyed by numerous readers, myself included. I also enjoyed Bohjalian’s recent release, The Double Bind kept me fully engrossed throughout the book and its shocking ending. So I recently read Before You Know Kindness, which Bohjalian wrote after Midwives but before The Double Bind. The storyline and subject matter for all three novels are completely different, which shows what a talented writer Bohjalian is. It is hard to compare the three novels with each other, as they are so different, although Bohjalian’s hallmark superb writing is present in all three novels.
Before You Know Kindness takes place in New Hampshire, Vermont and New York, with the most significant events occurring in New Hampshire, at the home of the mother of Catherine and John, who have come to visit their mother with their respective spouses, Spencer and Sara, and their respective children, Charlotte and Willow and baby Patrick. The two granddaughters, Charlotte and Willow, have been staying with their grandmother for the summer in her New Hampshire home, and their parents arrive in July for a stay before they take their children home.
On a balmy night in July, Charlotte and Willow get permission from their parents to attend a bonfire party with some teenagers from the local country club. This is an exciting opportunity for Charlotte and Willow, as Charlotte is just reaching her teenage years and Willow is a couple of years younger than Charlotte. Things get out of hand for the girls at the party. They end up smoking marijuana, drinking beer and getting “wasted.” After returning to their grandmother’s house, Willow’s father asks her to retrieve Patrick’s diapers from the trunk and Charlotte ends up removing a loaded gun from the trunk against Willow’s stringent protests. Curiosity quickly turns into tragedy when Charlotte shoots her father, Spencer, in the shoulder, which results in many hard days in the hospital, along with lifelong disability and pain.
What subsequently transpire are numerous questions about the shooting. What was Charlotte doing, and why did she shoot her father? Was it on purpose, or was it an accident? There is also the question of how Spencer’s employer, FERAL, an animal rights activist group, will react to the shooting, as John’s gun was used for hunting. What unfolds is how a single shattering act of violence can changes the lives of entire families. This book is a literary page-turner and highly recommend.