The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian
Let’s get it out of the way: I loved this book. It is somewhat a thriller, and somewhat about family/relationships combined with social issues. I’m a sucker for that stuff (e.g. Jodi Picoult when she is on her game)
So, the premise is that this successful hedge fund guy (Richard) lives in a nice big house in the suburbs with his wife Kristin and daughter Melissa. Richard has a brother (Phillip) who is about to be married, and Richard offers to hold the bachelor party at his house while Kristin and Melissa visit Kristin’s mother in the city. Phillip is one of those guys who skate on the ethical edge, and has a history of less-than-above-board dealings, but Richard is hoping that he is about to settle down into the kind of postcard-perfect life that Richard and his family enjoy. The party happens, and goes horribly wrong, ending up with two dead guys in the house (the watchdogs for the “female entertainment” hired by Phillip’s friend Spencer). The ensuing drama involves blackmail, more murder, sex slavery…quite a change for the Norman Rockwell family!
I loved the description of the phone call that brought the news of the mess at the party to Kristin: she “knew the odds are far higher that a call to a landline – to any line – at 3 in the morning is the ringtone of calamity. That call is the raven.” As Kristin hears the phone ring in her mother’s bedroom, she thinks about her mother’s reaction to bad news that may involve her family: “She would hear the verbal balancing act: urgency mixed like gin amid the tonic of consideration.”
Another important character is Alexandra, a young woman from Armenia by way of Moscow who was part of the evening’s “entertainment,” and has only been in the US for three weeks at the time of the party. She lived a life in Moscow full of movies and TV (The Bachelor was a favorite), and is “managed” by a series of men: the “truth is I usually felt safer with the men who paid for me than I did with…the guys who “protected us.”” Alexandra’s story unfolds in chapters alternating with the story of Richard and his family, and we learn gradually about her life following a horrific Armenian earthquake and her being recruited to Moscow to fulfill her dreams of being a ballerina.
Bohjalian includes some subtle humor, for example as Richard deals with job loss, blackmail, dealing with his sleazy brother and his wife’s (understandable) horrified reaction to the party, he muses about his parents, who had “retired to Fort Lauderdale…everyone was between the age of sixty and embalmed.” He spirals down, and “he wanted everything to be the way it had been seven days ago.”
The ending is something I totally did not see coming!!!! Any comments about the story will be spoilers, so I will just leave it at this: if you like a fast-paced, well-written story that will make you think and feel, both during the reading and afterward, grab this book! I plan to suggest it for one of my book clubs…I think there is lots of potential for interesting discussion.
I appreciate receiving an advance copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review. Five stars!