- The Double Bind written by Chris Bohjalian, read by Susan Denaker
- Publisher: BOT Essentials
- Release Date: February 13, 2007
Who and what is the book about (back-of-the-book blurb): When college sophomore Laurel Estabrook is attacked while riding her bicycle through Vermont’s back roads, her life is forever changed. Formerly outgoing, Laurel withdraws into her photography and begins to work at a homeless shelter. There she meets Bobbie Crocker, a man with a history of mental illness and a box of photographs that he won’t let anyone see. When Bobbie dies suddenly, Laurel discovers that before he was homeless, Bobbie Crocker was a successful photographer.
As Laurel’s fascination with Bobbie’s former life begins to merge into obsession, she becomes convinced that some of his photographs reveal a deeply hidden, dark family secret and falls into a cat-and-mouse game with pursuers who claim they want to save her.
Where and when does it take place: Set near the present day in Burlington, Vermont, close to the campus of UVM. Laurel was attacked in Underhill, a smaller town about 20 miles away. She was raised in Long Island, and reminisces about her childhood there.
Laurel, now in her late twenties, lives in a duplex with her roommate Talia, a friend from college who went on to become the youth minister at a local church. Other characters include their house-mate, Whit, a student at UVM; David, Laurel’s older boyfriend (in keeping with her pattern of dating older men since the attack); and Laurel’s boss at the homeless shelter, Katherine.
What would I say to a friend who asked me about it: The Double Bind is a great motivator that kept me on the treadmill! I was really caught up in the mystery as Laurel attempted to track down the story of who Bobbie Crocker really was, and how he fell from the life of a well-regarded photographer to a life on the streets.
Having spent hours looking at microfiche for clues to my own family history (ancestry), I felt Laurel’s excitement over the most tenuous of connections, and her desire to put aside other commitments (both small and large) so she could keep at her research.
Many of the clues were found in the photos themselves. Bohjalian describes these in such detail that we get a good sense of cultural history – from the Unisphere at the 1964 World’s Fairgrounds in Queens, to music icons of the same decade. I really appreciated how easily I could conjure up images of the dozens of photos, and played along with Laurel as she rearranged them, trying to make find a pattern that would help her make sense of these artifacts of Crocker’s life.
Ultimately, the author put the final piece of the puzzle in place as he doled out the plot. Those are signs of a good mystery, in my opinion: one that I don’t “solve” early on in my reading, and one that (once the solution is revealed) makes me want to flip through the book to find any clues I had missed.
Why did I listen to it: A few months ago I reviewed Secrets of Eden, the first Chris Bohjalian book I had read (or listened to). Several comments on that blog post indicated “you must read The Double Bind – it’s my favorite of his books!” I take reading suggestions as easily as I dish them out, so I picked it up.
A few favorite passages: It’s difficult to note passages in an audiobook, so I returned to the print edition to find an excerpt that is very telling of the supposed small moments that can lead to big changes in one’s life – those “what if” scenarios for something as seemingly inconsequential as choosing a different route home from the store (and missing an accident that occurred on your usual route), or opting to go to a particular club with friends after work (where you meet your future husband). This paragraph follows several which describe the changes in Laurel’s life and lifestyle after the attack in Underhill:
Of course, the change that mattered most is this: If Laurel had not been fiercely attacked, she would not have resumed swimming laps. That sounds prosaic, anticlimactic. But life is filled with small moments that seem prosaic until one has the distance to look back and see the chain of large moments they unleashed. Pure and simple, if Laurel had not started venturing most mornings to the school’s natatorium, she would never have met the University of Vermont alumna who ran the homeless shelter in Burlington and continued to stay fit years later in the UVM pool. And then she would never have wound up working at the shelter, first as a volunteer while she was still in school and later, after she graduated, as a bona fide employee. And if she hadn’t wound up at the homeless shelter, she would never have met a patient from the state mental hospital, a gentleman (and he was indeed gentle) fifty-six years her senior who went by the name of Bobbie Crocker.
What else can I add: I’ve now read (in audio format, so “listened to,” if you prefer that phrase) two novels by Chris Bohjalian. The next book of his that I read will be in print format, and will likely be his most recent novel, The Night Strangers.
I’m also keenly interested in re-reading F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (and/or watching the film)
This unabridged audio edition of The Double Bind that I listened to was from “Books on Tape” (BOT), and was actually a nine disk CD set that is available through libraries only.
And, one more note about Secrets of Eden, a note on Chris Bohjalian’s website says: Look for “Secrets of Eden,” the movie starring John Stamos and Anna Gunn, on Lifetime on February 4, 2012.