Sunday, January 01, 2012

Book 71: Secrets of Eden

Secrets of Eden by Chris Bohjalian

Secrets of Eden begins after Alice Hayward and her abusive husband are found dead, victims of a murder-suicide.  The first part of the novel is narrated by Stephen Drew, the pastor, that baptized Alice that same day, and their deaths have shattered his faith more than many of the other tragedies he has seen in the past.  During the baptism, Alice uttered the word "there" to him, and in retrospect he believes this was her way of saying she was ready to die.  It is debatable whether this is true or if it is something he must tell himself to ease his guilt.  Drew comes off as a sympathetic but flawed man, and while at first the reader can only guess why this particular case had such an effect on Drew, it is confirmed quickly enough.

It is a good thing that Drew was the first narrator because it helped build up the reader's sympathy for him.  The next two narrators have rather different views of him, starting with the state's attorney whose long years at work have taught her to find the worst in all, and particularly men.  She quickly suspects Drew of hiding something, and doesn't believe that the case is quite as it seems.  The next narrator is Heather, a woman who had been on a book tour in the local area, and found herself drawn to the pastor.  She writes about angels and believes in guardian angels.  Additionally, her own parents died in a murder suicide, so she believes that she may be able to help the Hayward's fifteen year old daughter Katie cope.  Her interest in Drew is based on a quote from a newspaper article that makes it clear he has lost his faith.  She finds herself drawn to him, and despite their very different belief systems, Drew is also interested in her.  However, Heather is more damaged than she tries to let on, and very unforgiving of any perceived slights or breaches of trust.

The final part of the novel is told from Katie's perspective as she deals with her new parent-less status, and the media circus that her parents' demise inspired.  All the characters are very well drawn, though Drew does have the advantage of being the first narrator, so the reader automatically wants to trust him despite what some of the other narrators may end up believing about him.  Bohjalian's novels all tend to have rather different topics, but he excels at character development.  They all have very distinct voices, and well developed backgrounds.  He also does a great job of portraying how the characters view themselves and how they are viewed by different people in the narrative.

No comments: