The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Richard Chapman reluctantly agrees to host his younger brother's bachelor party--at his own home. He suspects his brother, Philip, and Philip's good friend Spencer may be hiring some "entertainment" for the party, but isn't expecting the two women and Russian bodyguards who show up for the evening. Nor is Richard expecting what follows -- an evening of drinking, partying, sex, and suddenly - murder, when the women kill their bodyguards and disappear. Suddenly, Richard finds himself trying to explain what happened to his wife, their young daughter, his employer, and the world at large. Further he finds himself haunted by memories of his interactions with one of the girls, Alexandra.
This was an interesting book with a somewhat fascinating premise. It brings up a lot of questions about morality. What role does our society play when it comes to bachelors parties -- and what is the expectation of those attending? And the spouses and fiancees on the other side? What do we tell ourselves about the origin of the "talent" that appears at such functions? Bohjalian attempts to explore these questions through Richard's story - which unfolds from Richard's perspective, that of his wife, Kristin, and one of the hired girls, Alexandra. It becomes almost a bit of a thriller - as we piece together bits before the party, the aftermath, and also learn what led up to the girls' fateful decision.
A bit of the book lags in the beginning, but it picks up quickly and becomes quite compelling. One would think Richard would be the main character, but for me, the story revolved around Alexandra. Her tale is the most thought-provoking and insightful. At points, the novel is simply heart-breaking. Richard's sections are often irritating and frustrating, as you can only have so much sympathy for the man at points. Kristin is a good go-between - the innocent bystander blindsided by what occurred in her home when she was not there.
Overall, the book weaves the story nicely around its characters. Little details give a nuanced perspective that authors less experienced than Bohjalian may lack (he's also one of the few authors that has me hitting the dictionary from time to time to look up words). There was a time when I really felt my rating for this could range from 2 - 4 stars. It received a bump for the ending, which just felt fitting, and for Alexandra, who was a lovely protagonist and written in such a quiet way that doesn't come along very often. In the end, this felt more than a "life in suburbia gone terribly wrong" story - it was cold and heartless, yet heart-breaking and compassionate. A worthwhile read, for sure.
(Note: I received an ARC from Netgalley in return for an unbiased review.)
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