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Before You Know Kindness

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Chris Bohjalian, bestselling author of Midwives, presents his most ambitious and multi-layered novel to date--examining wildly divisive issues in today’s America with his trademark emotional heft and spellbinding storytelling skill. On a balmy July night in New Hampshire a shot rings out in a garden, and a man falls to the ground, terribly wounded. The wounded man is Spencer McCullough, the shot that hit him was fired–accidentally?–by his adolescent daughter Charlotte. With this shattering moment of violence, Chris Bohjalian launches the best kind of literate page-turner: suspenseful, wryly funny, and humane.

429 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2004

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About the author

Chris Bohjalian

35 books11.2k followers
Chris Bohjalian is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of 24 books. His work has been translated into 35 languages and become three movies and an Emmy-nominated TV series.

The paperback of his new novel, THE LIONESS, roars May 2, and is already in development for a limited TV series. A luxurious African safari turns deadly for a Hollywood star and her entourage in this riveting historical thriller, about which the New York Times wrote in its spring preview, "Bohjalian steers this runaway Land Rover of a story into some wildly entertaining territory."  

Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, and Booklist all gave it starred reviews.

Jodi Picoult said, "THE LIONESS feels like the best possible combination of Hemingway and Agatha Christie -- a gorgeously written story about the landscape and risks of Africa, whose edge-of-your-seat plot makes it impossible to put down. Bohjalian just gets better and better.”

His 2021 novel, HOUR OF THE WITCH, is now on sale as a paperback. It's a tale of historical suspense set in 1662 Boston, a story of the first divorce in North America for domestic violence -- and a subsequent witch trial. Diana Gabaldon in her review in the Washington Post called it "historical fiction at its best." Danielle Trussoni in the New York Times called it "harrowing."

His 2020 novel, “The Red Lotus,” is a twisting story of love and deceit: an American man vanishes on a rural road in Vietnam and his girlfriend, an emergency room doctor trained to ask questions, follows a path that leads her home to the very hospital where they met, and is also in development for a TV series. In the New York Times, Sarah Lyall called it, “Terrific. . .[an] elegant noose of a plot. . .Bohjalian is a pleasure to read. He writes muscular, clear, propulsive sentences. . .As suspenseful as it is, The Red Lotus is also unexpectedly moving — about friendship, about the connections between people and, most of all, about the love of parents for children and of children for parents. Bohjalian is a writer with a big heart and deep compassion for his characters.”

His 2018 novel, “The Flight Attendant,” debuted as a New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, Publishers Weekly, and National Indiebound Bestseller. It is now HBO Max TV series, starring Kaley Cuoco.  Season two landed in April 2022.

He is also a playwright and screenwriter. He has adapted his novel, “Midwives,” for a play, which premiered January 21, 2020 at the George Street Playhouse, and was directed by David Saint. Broadway World said of it, “The fine playwriting by Bohjalian, the directorial talents of the Playhouse’s Artistic Director, David Saint, and the show’s accomplished cast make this play unforgettable.”

His first play, “Grounded,” premiered at the 59 East 59th Theatres in New York City in the summer of 2018 and is now available as an audiobook and eBook, “Wingspan.”

His books have been chosen as Best Books of the Year by the Washington Post, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Hartford Courant, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, Bookpage, and Salon.

His awards include the Walter Cerf Medal for Outstanding Achievement in the Arts; the ANCA Freedom Award for his work educating Americans about the Armenian Genocide; the ANCA Arts and Letters Award for The Sandcastle Girls, as well as the Saint Mesrob Mashdots Medal; the New England Society Book Award for The Night Strangers; the New England Book Award; Russia’s Soglasie (Concord) Award for The Sandcastle Girls; a Boston Public Library Literary Light; a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award for Trans-Sister Radio; a Best Lifestyle Column for “Idyll Banter” from the Vermont Press Association; and the Anahid Literary Award. His novel, Midwives,was a number one New York Times bestseller, a selection of Oprah’s Book Club, and a New England Booksellers Association Discovery pick. He is a Fellow of the Vermont Academy of Arts and Sciences.

He ha

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,202 reviews
Profile Image for Jennifer.
2 reviews1 follower
April 24, 2019
I LOVED this book. I don't know why people are saying it was slow moving. I loved the pace. It's a character piece, and the suspense is in the slow and detailed unfolding of their lives and secret thoughts. To me, this book is a lot about what people think every day, but never reveal to each other, and how that affects what they can and can't say (or do) later. And, I liked that the author took a hard stance against animal activists -- not because I have anything against them. Like most of us, I tend to assume that, "Animal activists are GOOD people, because they're saving animals, aren't they???!?!?" And, I didn't think less of any actual animal activists after I read the book. It just reminded me that things aren't always what they seem. An occupation does not define a man -- contrary to popular belief, lawyers aren't necessarily selfish and money-grubbing, actors aren't necessarily narcissistic, doctors aren't necessarily altruistic, and animal activists come in all shapes and sizes and moral character as well. Anyway, I can understand that not everyone enjoyed this book, but I thought it was one of my favorite all-time reads. I loved the dialogue. I thought every moment of the book was packed with meaning. Every detail of every conversation was significant to the story in some small way, I didn't want to miss a word.
But, hey, I'm also a slow reader, so EVERY book is slow to me! HAH!
Profile Image for Audra.
24 reviews2 followers
November 2, 2007
I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone. The book had a slow start & I stuck with it thinking that it would get better, but it dragged on & on. The problem with the book is that you already knew what was going to happen & you think that there will be a climax but it maintains the same pace throughout. When I finished this book I was just happy it was over.
49 reviews3 followers
August 16, 2007
I really enjoyed Bohjalian's book "Midwives" but I just couldn't get interested in any of the characters in this book. I pushed through it, thinking it would get better, but at the end, I still didn't care about any of these people.
Profile Image for Martie Nees Record.
672 reviews137 followers
October 26, 2019
Genre: Domestic Drama
Publisher: Random House
Pub. Date: Aug. 9, 2005

Chris Bohjalian is one of my all-time favorite authors. However, this is not my favorite Bohjalian novel. Actually, it is probably my least favorite. “Kindness” is a character-driven novel about the importance of family. Later I will get to what I didn’t like about the story. I did enjoy the well-developed characters. The novel centers on a 70-year-old grandmother, her two grown children, her children’s spouses, and her grandchildren, two preteen girls and an infant boy. The grown son and daughter grew up in their mother’s luxurious apartment in NYC. As children, they summered in their country home in New in Hampshire. The family has owned both homes for generations. We are talking old money here—lots of it. In the present, at the end of each summer, all three generations meet at the country home for one week of tennis, golf, the club, the pool, the beach, and summer cocktails.

I found the family drama interesting. Both marriages are in trouble for different reasons. Bohjalian does a good job of explaining what can happen when one of the husbands is obsessed with his work for animal rights. And the other is feeling the strain of having a newborn in middle age. The author does an excellent job of nailing down preteen dilemmas. Out of the female granddaughters/cousins, one is a bit shy of thirteen who desperately wants to be sixteen. The other is a bit shy of eleven and her older cousin’s tag-along. One night the female cousins go to a teenage bonfire where there is pot and beer. Both girls get in way over their heads while their parents’ lost in their own dilemmas are clueless.

Before the reader even gets to know the family, the novel opens with a prologue describing the aftermath of a tragic accident involving a rifle. As the tale progresses, we learn that the man who is shot (no spoiler here) is the father who is the animal rights activist as well as an advocate and lecturer for abolishing hunting. These are two noble causes. My issue with the author’s narrative is that the characters often seem to have been forgotten so that he can write what feels like a lengthy paper on these social issues. There is so much extensive detail on the subject, pages long worth that I found myself skimming. If the master storyteller simply would have cut out some of the lecturing, this would have read more like his usual novels, consisting of an interesting plot with believable, well fleshed out characters, rather than a close-to-boring term paper.

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Profile Image for Jill.
367 reviews1 follower
February 20, 2009
I am a little unsure how I feel about this book. There is a lot here: gun control issues, animal rights issues, pre-teen drug/alcohol use, multi-generational relationships, etc. I did appreciate that the initial defining moment (a twelve year old girl accidentally shoots her father) didn't go down the expected "Janie's Gotta Gun"- (apologies to Aerosmith) road but I still didn't think the book was as good as it could have been.

It seems to me that many famous authors today could use slightly stronger editors; the books are good but suffer from sections that drag or are incredibly repetitive. Are the editors afraid of offending one of the prize writers? This is one of those books that would really have benefitted from some strong trimming. There were times I wanted to say, "I get it, we don't need to dwell on this/return to this."

I would only recommend this book to people who are already fans of Chris B. or have strong feelings on gun control/animal rights who might be interested in those angles of the story.
Profile Image for Carol.
537 reviews53 followers
December 16, 2015
This was mainly an author's attempt to turn a personal held political statement into a novel – a wordy, boring, tedious, over-long novel. His personal rants became invasive after about 100 pages and this was a 400 page book! I read for another 125 pages and could not take it any longer. I don't mind reading other people's points of view (even though different than mine) but not when pretending to be fiction and not shoved forcefully down my throat with a sharp stick.
Profile Image for Miriam.
27 reviews2 followers
August 9, 2011
I'm just going to come out and say it: I really didn't like this book. I picked it up because I really enjoyed Bohjalian's Midwives and although I disliked The Double Bind, I thought I'd give him another chance. I think this will be my last Bohjalian book, at least for a while.

The plot was somewhat interesting and could have been salvaged if it was approached differently. But the story arc was so odd and didn't lead up to anything. There was something that resembled a climax but that came very early on in the book. The rest, both before and after the central event, was pretty much comprised exclusively of characters thinking things. I got so sick of reading different characters' thoughts. And Bohjalian was so awful at describing these thoughts. It felt like the whole book was just a stream of consciousness of each character. He did nothing to alter his style when he described the thoughts of a 10-year-old girl or a 70-something grandmother. I found myself not believing a word anyone in the story was thinking.

There was also the fact that I found all of the characters very flat and boring. None of them developed at all throughout the book. And honestly, I kept getting them all confused because there was nothing distinct about any of them.

The last thing I'm going to say is that Bohjalian included so much unnecessary description that got ridiculously boring and tedious to read. He described the outfit of every new character he introduced as well as the main characters at each new scene. He described each character's thoughts about the silliest things that didn't have anything to do with the plot and added nothing to the book. A lot of the characters themselves added nothing to the book, and only served to confuse me more because I kept forgetting who they were.

To sum up, I didn't like this book. It took me forever to finish because I didn't like reading it. I would not recommend it.
Profile Image for Anastasia.
1,212 reviews
January 15, 2008
I didn't really care for this book very much. I didn't mind the slow pace that much. What bothered me most was that the author failed to establish a separate and believable voice for each of his characters. Even when the reader was privy to a character's thoughts, there was no intimacy in the way the character thought of or referred to a loved one, no language/vocabulary appropriate to the character's age or personality. Perhaps the author inserted his own voice too much into each character. Anyway, I found myself unable to really care about any of the characters.

And another issue I had with the book is the author's portrayal of vegetarians, vegans, and animal rights activists. The portrayals were pretty much all extremes, and when there are lots of stories told about such people, a story focusing on the extreme is accepted as just one story and not representative of all. When there are relatively few stories told about a particular type of person, almost any story told will be read as a description in general of all people in that group. I would say that most vegetarians voluntarily abstain from meat and don't secretly eat Slim Jims and nasty fast food hamburgers. Most vegans don't lecture and berate other people about their food habits, and instead, make sure to bring their own food to social events so as not to make a scene for other people. Most animal rights activists like and care about people as well as animals. Bohjalian's book has the potential to create false stereotypes.
Profile Image for Candice.
1,411 reviews
March 15, 2010
This is one of my favorite books, and I was happy that our book group voted to discuss it later this week. I wanted to share this with the group, and I wanted another chance to read it. I liked it just as well the second time. I liked it for several reasons. First, it takes a complicated issue and (no, I'm not going to say it makes it simple because it doesn't) looks at it from all angles. When 12-year-old Charlotte picks up a hunting rifle from the trunk of her uncle's car and accidentally shoots her father, Spencer, the communications director of an animal-rights organization (FERAL), we can see the consequences of that action.

The injury is described in horrific detail. The cases for and against hunting are presented, as well as the issues affecting the animial-rights movement. Spencer's life with his disability is made real by the heart-wrenching scenes where he tries to make do with one arm. I thought the characters were well-developed and while not all were very likeable, all were understandable. Even the little baby, Patrick, was a real person and someone I could enjoy.

When I read something like this, it shows me why I will never be a writer. I liked the way it ended with (I won't give anything away here) something that the grandmother had mentioned to Charlotte and her cousin during the summer. I liked the descriptions. It had to have taken a lot of thought and a lot of research to create a book like this, and the efforts were evident on every page.
Profile Image for Jen.
220 reviews117 followers
Shelved as 'gave-up'
March 29, 2008
I was listening to this book on audiobook and was excited about it because I loved The Double Bind so much. However, this book I didn't connect with at all. Bohjalian seemed to try to hard on the complex sentences - William Faulkner he is not. And the plot was just so convoluted. By the fifth disk I felt that I had heard the same parts of the plot at least five times, and I KNEW I couldn't have cared less about the vegetable garden. So, on the sixth disk when the disk seemed to be damaged for at least five of the middle tracks, I decided to put myself out of my misery and just shut it off.
Profile Image for Alisa.
825 reviews22 followers
July 19, 2016
A character study, requires a patient reading (well, listening in my case) that allows the plot to develop while gaining a fairly deep understanding of each member of the Seton clan. The relationships are simple on their face, complicated by the very passions and character traits that are prized by their owners. The exploration of how individuals associate ideas together, especially between parents and children, was interesting. The underutilized relationships of adult siblings, and how their spouses become friends and true family over the years, is also a part of the story, often reflecting how our siblings see traits and habits that we ignore or don't see in ourselves. As one of forty plus first cousins, it was great to read about how the cousins in this story fed off each other, pushed at each other, and experienced their relationship with their shared grandmother. Though I think the plot was tied up a bit too neatly, I did appreciate considering how these relationships might evolve over the years, with a bit of gratitude that this disaster would allow a different appreciation of each other.
Profile Image for Rose.
193 reviews
February 17, 2018
I am a fan of Chris Bohjalian, having read several of his books and I do plan to read him again. I have especially always liked the thoughtful treatment he gives complex and delicate issues and his skill for great character developement.

However,in Before You Know Kindness my disappointment is in the fact that it was over 400 pages long, and easily could have been pared way down to the theme's essential issues. I felt he was being repetitive many times. I also found the ending wrapped up a little too neatly for my taste.
117 reviews3 followers
August 9, 2010
Having been a huge fan of all Bohjalian's previous books, Before You Know Kindness was at the top of my list to read when it came out. Taking on vegetarians, vegans and gun control, this book tackels a lot of topics and does so with finess.

Underneath all of the central topics, as in most of his books, family and relationships are at the heart of this book. And what tragedy or difference can do to a family, a relationship. What I enjoyed about the book was that Bohjalian did not clearly make a stance on whether he thought hunting was wrong, or that people should not eat meat. Although, it was obvious that gun control, and learning how to properly care for a gun was foremost in his mind.

Overall, another great book by Bohjalian! I enjoyed the characters and their development. I especially enjoyed the ending which was well worth the wait and truly made the entire book for me. If you're new to his writing- I think once you read this you'll do what I did and devour his entire catalogue! Happy Reading!
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Sara Johnson.
47 reviews
April 21, 2014
I liked this book quite a bit better than the last Bohjalian novel I read (Night Strangers). As vegetarian I found the focus on an animal rights activist and his family very interesting. My biggest annoyance about it was that when he was referring to any of the child characters (especially the two girls), or having one of the adults think about the child characters, he often used "the child" or "the girl", etc. Perhaps he's done this with other books and I just haven't noticed, but it really stood out to me in this one - and it was super annoying. But obviously not enough to keep me from reading it :)
Profile Image for Kate S.
579 reviews66 followers
September 5, 2015
This is the book I knew Bohjalian had written. I enjoy his style. I like his writing and his voice. I do not always like his subject matter. This look at a family as they each address a traumatic event was fabulous. I did not always like the characters, but I did find them mostly believable. The ending may have been a little rushed, but I felt the impulsiveness and misguided beliefs of a 12 year old made it more understandable. I am so glad I picked this book up at a library sale and was able to read it here at the end of a summer in my own life. I can imagine revisiting these characters.
Profile Image for Amy.
7 reviews2 followers
September 25, 2007
I'm on the fence on this book. The topic of gun control, animal rights, and veganism was definitely interesting, but I struggled a bit with the author's portrayal of the animal rights issue. I was struck by how a few of the characters were so one-dimensional -- practically a stereotype -- and these were, with the exception of Spencer, all people on the side of animal rights. His other characters are so well developed with both positive and negative characteristics (everyone is humanely flawed) that you would have thought he'd make these other characters not so negatively one-dimensional. He turns it around at the very, very end, but it was just a bit too late for me. I kept wondering if he had an ax to grind with some vegan or maybe he's just an avid hunter:)
Profile Image for Ellen.
131 reviews9 followers
April 20, 2010
This book focuses on an extended family dealing with the aftermath of a tragic accident involving a rifle. The man who is shot, Spencer, is an animal rights activist whose dedication to his job and inflexibility regarding his vegan lifestyle are starting to wear on his wife and teenage daughter. Also involved in the story are Spencer's wife's brother and his family, who have their own problems to sort through. I enjoyed reading about the families' different ways of dealing with the tragedy and watching Spencer relax his hardline stance after his injury. I did feel that the animal rights activists portrayed in the book were dealt with a bit unfairly.

I suppose that Bohjalian was trying to focus on extremists rather than those with more moderate views. But as a vegetarian who avoids wearing leather, I found it a bit annoying how often he mentioned that non-leather items were unattractive or clunky. In almost any shoe store you can find many styles of non-leather shoes, and it can be quite difficult to tell which are real and which are fake without feeling or smelling the shoes. So seriously, come on. Also, the several mentions of how animal rights activist characters found themselves more sympathetic to animals than to human beings grated, too. Actually, I think that some extreme animal rights activists probably do feel that way, but I also think it's unlikely that even the most extreme animal activist cares more for animals than for his or her own family members.

I enjoyed discussing the book with Mom's book group at the Lynchburg Public Library in March. Wish I could discuss more books that I read!
Profile Image for Carol.
369 reviews25 followers
March 18, 2012
I read this book because my friend Heidi recommended it. The last books she recommended to me were The Hunger Games series so I was fairly sure I would enjoy reading this. Plus I really liked the book Midwives by the same author.
Yes, I did like the book and enjoyed reading it. I'm not sure I liked the way the entire plot was disclosed in the prologue of the book but the development of the story was enjoyable reading. This was a story of family and relationship which is always a winner for me. Throw in strict over the top veganism,(FERAL was depicted as a cutthroat group and I do like animals), gun control, the mandatory New York mention of 911, and class awareness and you have a good read.
Spencer's convalescence was a nightmare even in someone as motivated as he. The dreams about the crabs partially explained his veganism but not his obsessions to the detriment of his family with the rights of animals. I was glad to see the changes that occurred in him by the end of the book.
Profile Image for Nina Vandewater.
22 reviews2 followers
August 3, 2011
Wouldn't you know I'd choose the Bohjalian that reviewers here and on Amazon say is his weakest. I think there just wasn't enough here for a 413 p. book. And somehow you weren't in love with any of the characters. Not a difficult read by any means, but nevertheless, a slow go.

If you are a vegetarian or vegan or PETA member, then you might really enjoy this book since it deals with those subjects. You will read a lot about how different animals are killed - so much so that it does make one feel guilty about eating animals and drinking milk. It is also anti-hunting, including deer which are decimating the family garden.

It is the shooting of a deer which leads to our story line which I don't want to reveal. But ultimately, this is the story of 2 families, 1 in particular is on the brink of coming apart. 300 p. probably would have been enough to tell their story.
Profile Image for LynnDee (LynnDee's Library).
517 reviews39 followers
December 26, 2018
I really enjoy Chris Bohjalian as a writer, and I did not find any faults with his writing in this novel. He's very good at writing character novels, and letting the reader inside the mind of each character involved in the plot. With this novel, it was almost too much. While character novels with multiple perspectives are pretty much my favorite type of novel format, this one had almost too many character insights/perspectives. I appreciated getting the perspective of the main players, but I didn't necessarily need the perspectives of the side characters, mainly because I didn't feel like they added much and made the novel unnecessarily long. I also listened to this on audiobook, and I didn't care for the narrator. Anytime she read from the children's perspectives (there were 2) it sounded like an adult trying to sound like a child, and it just didn't work for me.

I will also say that Bohjalian is good at posing thoughtful discussion pieces in his works, and would compare him to Jodi Picoult. If you're a fan of her, you might enjoy him as well.

And while this wasn't my favorite novel from Bohjalian, I will continue to read his works, as I have a goal to read his entire catalogue.
Profile Image for Judy.
1,622 reviews26 followers
August 7, 2019
Usually I enjoy Chris Bohjalian’s books. He writes very different types of stories that have captured me. But I give up on this one. It is so slow moving. I don’t see where it is going and after halfway, I don’t really care. So I’m giving up, and hope his next book I read is more like the others in a good reading experience.
Profile Image for Anne.
797 reviews29 followers
December 14, 2011
No matter how many Chris Bohjalian books I read, he always seems to have more. Like his most famous book, Midwives, this one concerns a single tragic incident (here the shooting of a father by his own daughter), and then builds a story around the question of intent (did the daughter shoot her father accidentally or did she knowingly pull the trigger?). The question is never definitively answered, but the way each character in the book decides to view the situation affects their interactions with everyone else, and crucial decisions they make about each other and their own futures. Unlike Midwives and some of Bohjalian's other novels (Trans-Sister Radio and Buffalo Soldier, for example), I didn't find this one as compelling. I found the behavior of the daughter - while perhaps realisitc - incredibly annoying as she attempts to hide crucial information about the night of the shooting. The father is also a vegan animal rights activist who is portrayed as a borderline psychotic because of his beliefs - which don't actually seem all that crazy. So much of what threatens to tear the family apart post-shooting seems focused on this group he belongs to. While I appreciate a story that points out the ills of working too hard at the expense of one's home life - I thought the negative treatment of vegetarianism and veganism in the book completely odd. Perhaps this is a result of living in a part of the country where non-meat-eaters are basically mainstream, but I just didn't see it as creating as much conflict in life as this man's choices seemed to. I feel like most of Bohjalian's books could serve as excellent springboards for discussions among high school students about the difference between right and wrong, and all the gray areas in between. This one is definitely no different, but certainly not as complex or riveting as others he has written.
Profile Image for Kellie.
1,027 reviews70 followers
November 21, 2012
****Spoiler Alert******
This book is about a family and how they react to an accidental shooting. Daughter shoots father. I read a few reviews about this book before I started reading it. The one that sticks out in my mind is the one that praised Bohjalian’s character development and how detailed it was. This review was dead on. Bohjalian’s character development is so detailed it is almost to a fault. The reason is because I think it makes the storyline drag sometimes. However, it doesn’t really take away from how talented this writer is. I was slightly disappointed in the fact that I didn’t seem to like any of the characters. Caroline is a flirt and seems more interested in her life than she is in being a mom. Sara is a psychologist and therefore you would think she would have played a bigger role in resolving the family conflict, but she doesn’t. It may be because she has to tend to her infant son. I didn’t dislike John, I felt more pity than anything else. Willow was probably one of the more likeable characters, however, I kept waiting for her to get enough nerve to come out and tell someone the truth about what was going on. I detested Charlotte. I thought she was a spoiled little brat, although typical teenager. And finally, Spencer….I thought he was more likeable after the accident than before. I think he started to realize how important his family was to him as opposed to his obsession with his work. I thought there was a ton of great information in this book about a variety of subjects like animal rights, guns, gardening, being a vegan or vegetarian. The author did a good job showing both sides of each issue instead of trying to push an agenda. This is the first Bohjalian book I have read and it won’t be my last. Very unique writing style and strong story line. I absolutely loved the ending. Ingenious!
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Donna.
115 reviews
May 22, 2009
This book is really a character study of 3 generations of a family. The primary character is Spencer, an extreme animal rights activist/vegan who works for an organization called FERAL (i.e. our true life PETA). Spencer is so caught up in his activism & neglectful of his own family, he doesn't realize his wife and 12-year-old daughter are miserable. In fact, his wife is ready to leave him and he has no clue. His wife's family and her mother don't even want to be around him because of his "preachiness", self-righteous attitude and anger regarding other people who don't share his same animal-rights view. He has managed to alienate all the people around him who care about him, and he is totally oblivious. But when Spencer is shot with a deer rifle in a tragic accident, the narrative follows the events leading up to the shooting; then we find out how the shooting affects everyone else in the family, including Spencer's in-laws. I almost gave up on the book because it took a while to get into it & figure out the who's who list of characters. But because the author was Chris Bohjalian, I stuck with it, since I've liked other books he has written. I got a little bogged down with the other FERAL member characters & some of the legal aspects that were covered in the story, but I did like the Seton & McCollough families. This boils down to figuring out what's important in our lives and what we need to do so we don't lose them forever.
Profile Image for Kim.
132 reviews
June 23, 2009
This big fan of Bohjalian's Trans Sister Radio was not a big fan of this novel. Hence, I am unsure as to whether or not to read more by this author.
I really wanted to like the characters in this more than 400 page novel. I was hoping to relate to, or sympathize, or be intrigued by at least one of them.
I thought I might enjoy the relate to one of them who was a teacher, as so am I. If you have ever met a teacher, you know that teaching is not a profession, but really a lifestyle. Yet, we don't even find out her profession until well into the story. I couldn't connect with her. No luck there.
I have a vegan cousin,who wants to be a bee keeper in Maine and starts everyday with a soy-rific smoothie. Nope, Spencer the FERAL activist, didn't grab me either.
I like teenagers,and teach seventh grade, but Willow and Charlotte, the 11 and 13 year old girls were rather flat and dry.
My family disagrees with each other on an issue or two, but the Seton/McCullough debate over "to meat, or not to meat" didn't do it for me.
Lastly, I thought I would really like Nan, as I too spend the summers with my grandmother, but we never really learn her story either.
So, maybe the characters were too flat, too pretentious, too independently wealthy, or perhaps just too boring. I didn't fall in love with any of them or their stories.
Profile Image for Carol.
82 reviews
March 31, 2009
I'm writing this review so that I can remember different things about it for book club. Fellow club members, beware of spoilers. Like John, I wish I knew a damn thing about guns so I could understand what was wrong with his. Sara and Willow seemed a bit too good for me, like they were there to be microscopes more than characters. I was engrossed by the Seton family, especially Spencer, Charlotte, and Nan. Spencer is my argumentative side, the one who would ask God for a sign, see a hand come from the heavens pointing down, and then ask what the hell that means. Charlotte was a good kid with the wrong choice at the wrong moment. Nan I wish had been explored more. Especially the scene in which she asks her son about her work and is relieved to avoid the intimacy. Aren't we all like that? Don't we all let routine and activity replace intimacy?
Overally, I liked it but I wanted more. I especially should not have read this after Ehrenreich, because I kept asking myself why the author didn't have the nerve to make money an issue. Because Americans don't like taking on class, even in the safe world of fiction.

Profile Image for Sue.
32 reviews1 follower
August 1, 2017
Family first in this case, the head of the household has been eagerly packing for a much needed getaway from his corporate job. This time he will make nice with everyone, despite the anxiety his has over their omnivore diet. His pet peeve is use of all animal products and the eldest daughter goes along for the ride, until one of her favorite handbags gets the boot along with all other animal bi-products.
The turning point - His youngest daughter is not so inclined to use the same principles as the rest of the family and so discovers his hunting rifle in the trunk of dad's car. She has a hunch it's unloaded, but misses the mark, shoots and takes a good part of her dad's arm along with maybe, his life.
A complicated set of circumstances with his family now becomes even more so, as he turns to sue his own family and the gun manufacturer over what seems to be not so minor to his company's legal councel. This advice leads to decisions in the end that tear at the core of family values and the future for the dad.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
748 reviews87 followers
February 19, 2009
This book started off strong - Bohjalian is a great story teller and develops his characters so that you recognize them as people you might know. The very first scene gives you the crux of the story - a man has been shot by his 13 year old daughter while on vacation in New Hampshire. Then the first half of the book brings you to a few days prior to set up the scene and show you the different relationships and to give you a hint that everything might not be an accident. But then...the book changes course and starts to focus on the lawsuit against a faceless gun company and that hint of intrigue is completely lost. What little suspense there is in the book is basically centered around whether or not the injured man will go forward with a press conference. Not really the gripping conflict that I was hoping for.

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