STARRED REVIEW
January 2016

A bachelor party fantasy turned nightmare

By Chris Bohjalian
Once in a while, a reader needs to dive into a book that makes her feel just a bit unclean. The book doesn’t have to be trashy—and Chris Bohjalian’s latest, The Guest Room, is much too well-written and psychologically astute to be close to trashy—but the author must have no compunction about dropping the reader into the muck and leaving her there. This Bohjalian certainly does, with glee.
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Once in a while, a reader needs to dive into a book that makes her feel just a bit unclean. The book doesn’t have to be trashy—and Chris Bohjalian’s latest, The Guest Room, is much too well-written and psychologically astute to be close to trashy—but the author must have no compunction about dropping the reader into the muck and leaving her there. This Bohjalian certainly does, with glee.

The bad stuff comes early. Richard Chapman, a mild-mannered investment banker, allows his sleazy brother, Philip, to throw a bachelor party at Richard’s house in a tony New York City suburb. This predictably sordid affair takes a nightmarish turn when the bodyguards of the barely legal strippers are murdered in view of the guests. Because, see, these strippers aren’t strippers at all, but Armenian sex slaves—and the cue-ball-headed, no-neck bodyguards are their Russian overseers.

The point of view alternates, and Richard; his wife, Kristin; their daughter, Melissa; and an enslaved girl dubbed Alexandra by her captors all get a chance to tell the story. Richard has no idea what to do with himself. Kristin is freaked out—not so much because people were slaughtered in her house, but because her husband almost had sex with a girl half their age. Melissa is frightened and bewildered, which is perfectly OK because she’s 9. This, the book says, is how people who thought they had it made come unmade.

But consider what Bohjalian, author of the bestseller Midwives, does with the hapless Alexandra. She is the conscience in this conscienceless world, a girl who manages to hold on to her innocence and compassion despite the horror of her life. Her voice, with its sometimes uncertain, quirky English, is rendered with such perfection that it’s easy to forget that the author is male. This, the book tells us, is what happens to the innocent. It’s all very dark and greasy—and enjoyable.

 

This article was originally published in the January 2016 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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The Guest Room

The Guest Room

By Chris Bohjalian
Doubleday
ISBN 9780385538893

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