Laura's Reviews > The Double Bind

The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian
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Jan 26, 2008

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bookshelves: adult-fiction, fiction, controversial-issues-ethics, dysfunctional-families, mental-health, mystery
Read in January, 2008

Double bind: n. A psychological impasse created when contradictory demands are made of an individual, such as a child or an employee, so that no matter which directive is followed, the response will be construed as incorrect.

Laurel Estabrook is nineteen years old when her life is irrevocably altered by a brutal attack. She was riding her bicycle on the roads of Underhill, Vermont when the attack happened, and she has subsequently given up bicycle riding and she avoids any and all mention of Underhill. Not only does she give up bicycling, but she also withdraws from life in many other respects. She occupies herself with “safe” pursuits–her photography and her work at BEDS, a homeless shelter in Burlington. It is at BEDS that Laurel meets the fifty-six-year-old transient Bobbie Crocker.

Bobbie’s claims of past fame were regarded as those of a mentally ill man when he was alive. It is not until his death when he is discovered to possess a photograph collection that supports his claims. BEDS workers (Laurel, in particular) begin to wonder who Bobbie was and where he came from. The collection contains old photographs with famous people–musicians, sculptors, and more–as well as more recent photographs from Underhill. Mysteriously, a few of the photographs show a dirt road and a girl on a bike. Also in the collection are photos of a mansion–the home of Pamela Buchanan Marshfield, daughter of Tom and Daisy Buchanan of The Great Gatsby fame.

Bohjalian’s complex and enigmatic intertwining of the stories of Laurel, Bobbie, and Pamela renders the ending as a surprise but also as an ending that, in retrospect, makes complete sense. He augments the significance and mystery of his story by playing off the plot of The Great Gatsby such that as Laurel digs into Bobby’s past the secrets of the Buchanans become increasingly central.

If you like psychological thrillers where you have to dig and keep reading to uncover the real story, then Bohjalian’s The Double Bind will be a good pick. The book does skip among characters and perspectives and time frames, so it can be confusing. In the end, you may still not know what constitutes the real story, but through turning the pages of Laurel’s story you may have an increased insight into the dire straits of the homeless, the vulnerability of the mental ill, and the long lasting scars from past trauma.
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