Book Review: Secrets of Eden – Chris Bohjalian

edenTitle: Secrets of Eden
Author: Chris Bohjalian
Publisher:  Broadway;
Date of Publication:
  February 1, 2011
ISBN – 13: 978-0307394989
Pages:  400 pages

Synopsis: (From Publishers Weekly)  Bohjalian (Law of Similars) has built a reputation on his rich characters and immersing readers in diverse subjects—homeopathy, animal rights activism, midwifery—and his latest surely won’t disappoint. The morning after her baptism into the Rev. Stephen Drew’s Vermont Baptist church, Alice Hayward and her abusive husband are found dead in their home, an apparent murder-suicide. Stephen, the novel’s first narrator, is so racked with guilt over his failure to save Alice that he leaves town. Soon, he meets Heather Laurent, the author of a book about angels whose own parents’ marriage also ended in tragedy. Stephen’s deeply sympathetic narration is challenged by the next two narrators: deputy state attorney Catherine Benincasa, whose suspicions are aroused initially by Stephen’s abrupt departure (and then by questions about his relationship with Alice), and Heather, who distances herself from Stephen for similar reasons and risks the trip into her dark past by seeking out Katie, the Haywards’ now-orphaned 15-year-old daughter who puts into play the final pieces of the puzzle, setting things up for a touching twist. Fans of Bohjalian’s more exotic works will miss learning something new, but this is a masterfully human and compassionate tale.

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About the Author:  Chris Bohjalian is the author of thirteen books, including his most recent novel, Secrets of Eden, which debuted at # 6 on both the New York Times and Publishers Weekly bestseller lists.
His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers, Skeletons at the Feast, The Double Bind, Before You Know Kindness, The Law of Similars, and Midwives.
Chris won the New England Book Award in 2002, and his novel, Midwives, was a number one New York Times bestseller, a selection of Oprah’s Book Club, a Publishers Weekly "Best Book," and a New England Booksellers Association Discovery pick. His work has been translated into over 25 languages and twice become movies ("Midwives" and "Past the Bleachers"). You can see some of the international covers on this web site.
He has written for a wide variety of magazines, including Cosmopolitan, Reader’s Digest, and the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine, and has been a Sunday columnist for Gannett’s Burlington Free Press since 1992. Chris graduated from Amherst College, and lives in Vermont with his wife and daughter.

Author Website:  Chris Bohjalian –The Official Site   Reading Group Guide

My Review:

Secrets of Eden by Chris Bohjalian raises awareness of the devastating effects of domestic violence on families. The story starts out with the deaths of George and Alice Hayward in a murder/suicide situation. A few members of the small town in Vermont are aware of the spousal abuse that Alice suffered at the hands of George, but many were not.  There are many secrets that come to light throughout the book. 

The story is told in four parts by four different narrators.  Part one is told Stephen Drew, the local minister of the church in which Alice Hayward is baptized shortly before her death.  Stephen’s perceptions of the events are clouded with guilt.  The second part is told by Catherine Benincasa the deputy State Attorney.  The third narrator is Heather Laurant, an author who writes about angels and is familiar with the effects of domestic violence within her own family.  I am not sure that the character of Heather really added to the story.  The final part of the story is from the perspective of Katie Hayward, daughter of George and Alice Hayward.  This was my least favorite of the parts,  I did not feel the voice of Katie came across as a realistic portrayal of a teen girl.  The truth comes out in the end and makes for a satisfactory ending. 

I enjoyed Secrets of Eden, but I was not a fan of the story being told in parts.  It made the story feel a bit disjointed to me.  I did not have strong feeling about any of the characters in particular, but if I had a preference it would be for Katie Hayward.  She was a strong young woman who was managing a very difficult situation the best she could. 

My Rating: 3/5 – good read , but not my favorite of Chris Bohjalian’s books.  He does a nice job of raising aware of spousal abuse and the emotions surrounding it. 

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Happy Reading!

My Rating Scale: 1 – didn’t like it; 2 – it was ok; 3 – liked it; 4 – really liked it; 5 – it was amazing






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