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Icon author review: Chris Bohjalian

Review by Robert McCool

I recently discovered an author with a huge body of work, and a style that satisfies the soul which is searching for something, somehow, more than plain pop fiction. Chris Bohjalian has written twenty-two books, all based upon specific issues that are relatable to present times and circumstances. I read the first three that came to me through the library lending service.

2021's The Hour Of The Witch (Random House ISBN: 978-0-593-39651-3) is Chris's latest work of fiction. It chronicles the first divorce trial in 1633 Boston, and the disaster of one woman's life that follows. She is the second wife of a prominent lumber-mill owner, and one of the city's leaders. He is abusive of her in every way he can be, ultimately falsely accusing her of witchcraft.

This book kept me turning pages and serving pizza for dinner. It is told by the unfortunate woman as she goes about her life in a tyrannical Puritan society that treats women as chattel and imposes strict rules on how to live with Christ and not with the devil. Women could be accused of any crime and hung in an orgy of public death, or spit upon, lashed, or pilloried in the stocks. There was no red-letter "A" badge displayed on a woman's chest as adultery was a death-sentence for any woman accused and found guilty.

The next novel was 1997's "Midwives" (Crown Publisher, Inc. ISBN: 0-571-70396-3). Again, this is a book about a woman who lives outside of the common experience, and is on trial for causing a pregnant women's death during a delivery gone wrong. The trial runs the length of the book, and is "common-sense" vs. "common-law".

This novel was a #1 New Times Best seller and an Oprah's Book Selection, while later it was written as a stage play, and ultimately a movie version was produced.

Again, Chris waits until the last pages to reveal an unexpected ending, one both satisfying and dinner-fixing skipping.

Lastly, there is 2016's "The Guest Room" (Doubleday ISBN: 978-0-385-53899-3). This story begins with a bachelor party thrown at home for a younger brother who is less-than-mature. There are supposed to be strippers, but Russian prostitutes show up and things devolve quickly. There is murder of the two Russian pimps, the police called, and some homemade video to imply the big brother's unfaithfulness. His wife is devastated, the marriage is on the rocks, and the scandal spreads throughout the rest of his life. His life becomes a no-win situation.

In this case the ending concerns the consequences of everyone's actions. The bad and the not-so-bad, all in a few pages of manuscript.

All of Mr. Bohjalian's books have been on the New York Times list as worthy reads. His books are always listed as Best Books by the industry's journals. He writes about what he knows, which is Vermont, and to a lesser extent New York State. He knows the people, the customs and vocabulary of the people, the strange accents.

I look forward to reading "The Flight Attendant", which is now a series on HBO Max. And the 2020's "The Red Lotus", in development for a television series, that concerns the insight of Emergency Room doctors and a husband lost somewhere in Vietnam.

I personally enjoy his holding us in wonder until the endings show how we may have followed the wrong characters or motives. I like how he keeps you off balance and ignorant until the final pages of the book. You may not appreciate the rising tensions or misdirection, but I hope you read some of Chris's work out of the many choices he presents.