In his second novel, Christopher Bollen brings a fresh perspective to the tale of a small town that hides secrets beneath its sleepy facade. With Orient, Bollen takes a real place—the North Fork of Long Island—and weaves a mesmerizing fictional web of characters and mysteries into a story that is as viscerally thrilling as it is intellectually precise.
Orient is an isolated, quiet New York town, almost an island unto itself, but its peaceful facade is threatened by a cultural clash between the “year-rounders” who’ve called the place home forever and the wealthy newcomers who consider the town a refuge from the chaos of Manhattan. Even in its more peaceful moments, Bollen makes the place feel a bit like an idyllic powder keg waiting to burst into a firestorm. Things get more complicated when the body of a local caretaker is found floating in the water, followed shortly by the body of a creature that all the locals think might be from a research lab in the area. Rumors swell in the town, and many are centered on Mills Chevern, an orphan with a murky past who just arrived in Orient. More deaths follow, the town gets more fearful, and Mills ultimately joins a Manhattan transplant named Beth—who has problems of her own—in an effort to find out what’s really going on.
A sense of dread, of creeping disaster, builds in Orient from the very first page, and even though it takes a while for the first body to show up, Bollen has a knack for building tension through character, pacing and a sure sense of place. If you’re just looking for a great murder mystery, Orient has it, but there’s so much more to savor. Through this prism of a doomed American town, Bollen examines everything from class to parenthood to sexuality to privacy, and it’s all embedded within a central plot so intoxicating that you can’t help but linger on every moment searching for meaning. That Orient achieves this is enough to make it a page-turner. That the meaning you find often deepens as it dawns on you makes it a must-read novel.