The Guest Room
Chris Bohjalian
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The Guest Room
Chris Bohjalian
336 pages
January 2016
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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Bohjalian merges a bachelor party with the realities of modern criminal enterprise as the event spirals out of control, unleashing third-world horrors on an upscale family setting in a quiet New York neighborhood. The bachelor party begins innocently enough, when Richard Chapman agrees to host his younger brother’s pre-marital fling, the entertainment provided by one of bridegroom Philip’s friends. Richard anticipates nothing more than drunkenness and applause for a couple of strippers at the event.

But as the revelry accelerates, Richard realizes that Philip’s friend has hired two young women prepared to indulge the appetites of the inebriated partygoers, the girls’ Russian handlers standing stoically aside as the party evolves to bacchanal. Half-drunk himself, Richard is slow to recognize how badly the party has veered from his modest expectations to a moment of truth as a dark-haired beauty offers him her sexual favors as a special bonus for the host in an upstairs room. Richard is devastated at how close he has come to jeopardizing his marriage, how stupidly he has behaved with so much to lose.

Returning to the living room with the girl (“Alexandra”), they are just in time to witness the melee that leaves the floor of the room splattered with blood, the attendees cowering in fear. The two young women escape into the night in the black Escalade that delivered the entertainment to the suburban neighborhood only hours before. There are two dead bodies littering the living room when police arrive, a spectacular ending to an older brother’s attempt to limit the damage of his brother’s bachelor celebration. Chapman calls his wife from the police station. Kristen and their daughter, Melissa, are staying overnight at her mother’s apartment in Manhattan: “A call on the landline at three in the morning is the ringtone of calamity.”

The ensuing tragedy unfolds in a series of vignettes between Chapman and his family and the history of Alexandra’s journey from Russia to America as a sex slave, a jarring recitation of parallel worlds, upper-class suburban America, and the brutal training of orphaned girls groomed from childhood for use as sex slaves. The damage to Richard’s world unfolds slowly: the footsteps of Kristin’s mother in the hall as she calls her daughter to the phone in the middle of the night; Richard’s halting confession of temptation and his failure to protect their home from the stupidity and violence of strangers; the legal complications and jeopardy to Chapman’s employment as an investment banker; and a threat of blackmail, Richard scrambling to save his marriage and future.

Alexandra’s tale begins in Russia, cherished dreams of training as a classical ballerina in Moscow blinding her to the danger of her environment, slowly groomed to satisfy the carnal urges of men. The exploitation of Alexandra and others like her flourishes in cities everywhere; a swift brutality silences those who attempt escape. Two stories meet on the night of a bachelor party, two women escaping to the streets, a good man pitted against a society ravenous for gossip, overwhelmed by circumstances he is ill-suited to navigate. In a quiet neighborhood, the ugly underbelly of crime rears its head, violence wreaking havoc in suburbia, the terrified young women sought by police and criminals alike. The Guest Room is weighted with significance, whether in the Manhattan apartment where a wife and daughter sleep, blissfully unaware, or in a treasured family home where a happily married man experiences unexpected temptation. Extraordinary events call for brave decisions. Regrettably, some of the characters are savagely predictable.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Luan Gaines, 2016

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