S.C.'s Reviews > The Night Strangers

The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian
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May 25, 2012

it was ok
Read in November, 2011

I was really excited to read "The Night Strangers". I've been a fan of Chris Bohjalian for some time now and have loved most of his work. Disappointed by his last release ("Secrets of Eden"), I had hoped this novel would be the redeemer. I think my first impression of "hmm, this sounds a little boring" when I read the beginning passages was all too correct.

To personify, my experience in reading "Secrets of Eden" was like a much-hyped road trip; I returned from it underwhelmed by the attractions it had to offer and not much of anything to report back to people who'd wanted to take the same trip. "The Night Strangers" is the same way except that the story's queer denouement dropped me off miles from my anticipated destination and left me standing in a land of confusion, unsure of where I was and exactly how I got there. It was enough to make me regret having taken the trip in the first place.

Bohjalian is an immensely talented writer - he's authored some amazing books with moving and enthralling storylines and complex characters (Skeletons at the Feast, The Double Bind, Trans-Sister Radio), one of which (Midwives) managed to make the all-too-famous list of Oprah's Book Club. The appeal of those books is strangely absent from this one - it lacks that specific charm and grace that I know of Bohjalian. His characters lacked an edge and weren't compelling in the least, and his odd 2nd person narrative was distracting. I think he was so focused on the paranormal aspects of the tale that he forgot to flesh out his characters.

And again, that ending - I distinctly remember shaking my head after reading the last page, befuddled, thinking, "You can do better than that, Chris." I thought it confounding, nonsensical, and irritating; it went against his characters' struggles all throughout the book. I can understand a previous reviewer's comparison to Stephen King - King is famous for those types of nonconforming and unapologetic endings that go against the reader's hopes and expectations, and when Chris attempted to do the same, it was neither respected nor well-received by me. I saw it as a cop-out, a go-to ending the author chose because he didn't quite know just how to tie up loose ends after his grandiose climax. I know it sounds snobby of me, but I have little patience with skilled writers who do this sort of thing; I see it as them refusing to challenge themselves and going the easy route for the mere sake of producing a completed manuscript for the publisher.

Oft thought by me to be a goose who only laid golden eggs, Bohjalian has produced yet another dud. Of all the literary fiction he has nested over the years, "The Night Strangers" is another in a regrettably growing bunch that failed to hatch.
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