Elevate Difference

Secrets of Eden

Like Midwives and The Double Bind, Chris Bohjalian's newest suspense novel, Secrets of Eden, was (no exaggeration) nearly impossible for me to put down.

Set against the beautiful backdrop of a small town in rural Vermont is the horrific murder-suicide of a local couple. Businessman George Hayward, who has a history of abusing his wife Alice, murders her while their teenage daughter, Katie, is out at a concert, and then turns the gun on himself. Holding the family—and the town—together immediately after the tragedy is Reverend Steven Drew, who baptized Alice the day she died and suspects that she foresaw her own death.

Enter Heather Laurent, the author of a book on angels who also lost her parents in a murder-suicide. Heather tries, along with Steven, to befriend the orphan Katie, and they all try to pick up the pieces. Having his own crisis of faith after the tragedy, Steven buries himself in Heather (literally) in an attempt to escape his own grief at the loss of Alice. The twist: shortly after Steven and Heather begin their affair, Steven becomes a suspect in George's death, which police believe was not a suicide after all.

To reveal more would be a spoiler. Although there is plenty of violence and sex in this novel—including within the church congregation—Bohjalian writes about it in both realistic and tasteful ways. Each section of the book is written from a major character's point of view (including the tough-as-nails county prosecutor, Catherine Benincasa), and it's difficult not to sympathize with each of them because they're so realistically human. Bohjalian excels at writing about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.

Although Heather's new age persona got on my nerves, she was one of several strong female characters that Bohjalian is never afraid to include in his novels, and I find that to be gratifying. Even Alice, who was a victim, is revealed to have had secret and brave parts of her story.

As in life, nothing in Secrets of Eden is neatly resolved or as clear-cut as it initially seems. When the book ends, you're still left wondering who deserves the label of hero or villain. For this reader, that's part of Bohjalian's genius as a writer.

Written by: M.L. Madison, April 19th 2010