The Double Bind
Chris Bohjalian
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Buy *The Double Bind* by Chris Bohjalian online

The Double Bind
Chris Bohjalian
416 pages
February 2008
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Weaving the classic novel The Great Gatsby into his story, Chris Bohjalian's latest, The Double Bind, begins with a violent assault. Young Laurel Estabrook isn't prepared for tragedy when it strikes her randomly, altering her life forever. Brutally attacked by two men while biking in the picaresque Vermont Countryside, Laurel only just survives being raped.

Physically and emotionally scarred by the experience, Laurel gropes blindly through her days, trying to return to some kind of normalcy. She goes on to complete college, which eventually leads her to working in BEDS, a homeless shelter in Burlington where she meets the fifty-six-year-old transient Bobbie Crocker.

Bobbie has a collection of dog-eared, badly preserved photographs with clearly recognizable faces. There are famous people as well as jazz musicians, sculptors, and people playing chess in Washington Square. Laurel also notices there are more recent photos from the area in Vermont where she was attacked, including some of a dirt road and even one with a girl on a bike.

In one photo, Laurel recognizes instantly the home of Pamela Buchanan Marshfield and the country club from her childhood, including the Norman-style tower owned by a bootlegger named Gatsby. In another photo, there's a young boy with his sister, who Laurel presumes is Bobby Crocker himself.

The questions remains: if Pamela did have a brother, how could he have wound up homeless and mentally ill in Vermont? As Laurel tries to make sense of the box of dingy pictures and of Bobby's life, her boss wants to give Bobbie what he deserves: an exhibition highlighting his photos, reminding the city that the homeless are people, too, and have talents and dreams and accomplishments.

Laurel's curiosity is piqued when she discovers that Bobby was taking photos for Life magazine and that he had a close association with another famous photographer who also worked for Life. She becomes most fixated, however, on the photo of the girl on the bike, intrigued by the odd coincidence that Bobbie Crocker had owned pictures of the country club of her youth.

Meanwhile, her best friend, Talia, and her older boyfriend, the emotionally indifferent David, begin to question Laurel's interest in Bobby Crocker. Laurel, however, just can't seem to help herself. She is gradually seduced by the secrets of the Buchanans and their ties to the Gatsby family, becoming increasingly paranoid when Pamela Buchanan expresses an interest in getting her hands on the photos.

Pamela is certain that Bobby's work is a deluded, malicious attempt to expose the Buchanan family secrets, and she has spent a not insubstantial part of her life trying to salvage her parents' reputation. She shudders when she imagines what sort of truth might be conjured from among her brother's old photos.

Bohjalian masterfully unravels the mystery of how Bobby went from the mansion across from Laurel's childhood swim club to a dirt road to a homeless shelter in northern Vermont, while also perfectly capturing Laurel's obsession, vulnerability, and desperate need for reassurance as she tries to unlock the mystery of Bobby Crocker's photographic legacy.

This is a complex and masterful novel that not only exposes the inner workings of a defenseless young woman who finds herself in crisis. It also looks at the plight of the homeless and the terrible ramifications of schizophrenia on those whose lives, for whatever reason, have unraveled as they are tossed aside by society.

The final revelations are indeed startling, certainly throwing this reader for a loop. Bobby Crocker certainly had his own devils, but nothing compares to what comes to haunt Laurel. She has been dogged for years by the repercussions of the attack ,and she finally understands that a forgiving memory is perhaps the only way to get by as her life becomes ever more deluded and distorted.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at Michael Leonard, 2007

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