The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian is a book in a genre that I hardly ever read. I recently started a book club as part of my yearly Bookish Resolutions and this book was selected because of its social commentary on human trafficking.
From the New York Times bestselling author of Midwives and The Sandcastle Girls comes the spellbinding tale of a party gone horribly wrong: two men lie dead in a suburban living room; two women are on the run from police; and a marriage is ripping apart at the seams.
When Richard Chapman offers to host his younger brother’s bachelor party, he expects a certain amount of debauchery. He sends his wife, Kristin, and young daughter off to his mother-in-law’s for the weekend, and he opens his Westchester home to his brother’s friends and their hired entertainment. What he does not expect is this: bacchanalian drunkenness, a dangerously intimate moment in his guest bedroom, and two naked women stabbing and killing their Russian bodyguards before driving off into the night. In the aftermath, Richard’s life rapidly spirals into a nightmare. The police throw him out of his home, now a crime scene; his investment banking firm puts him on indefinite leave; and his wife finds herself unable to forgive him for the moment he shared with a dark-haired girl in the guest room. But the dark-haired girl, Alexandra, faces a much graver danger. In one breathless, violent night, she is free, running to escape the police who will arrest her and the gangsters who will kill her in a heartbeat. A captivating, chilling story about shame and scandal, The Guest Room is a riveting novel from one of our greatest storytellers.
I have a love-hate relationship with this book and it’s leaning more toward the disliked-and-confused end of the spectrum. The plot was probably my biggest issue. It starts out after everything has happened, where two strippers have killed their captors at a bachelor party at the main character’s house. At first, this left me disinterested, where I didn’t want to continue to read because what else could possibly happen, but the story went into an intriguing direction that piqued my interest only to be blown to smithereens with an unnecessary and unexpected ending.
Initially, I felt for the main character, but as the story went on, I began to dislike the characters. Eventually, the story progressed into this strange narrative that included the main character’s wife and daughter and one of the prostitutes as they try to deal with the murder. The multi-POV created a scattered commentary, which slowed the pace of the book to a crawl, and I never understood what the author was trying to say.
The POV of the nine-year-old daughter was unrealistic and upsetting for me. It describes how the daughter grapples with the idea of a murder in her house and why her dad has a“sex slave.” When I was her age, I knew nothing of sex or slaves for that matter. I just wanted to play with my barbies. The girl in this novel was way too intelligent, which brings me to why I don’t often enjoy the “fiction” section in a bookstore. Everyone is trying to sound overly intelligent and it’s unnecessary. Although I commend Bohjalian for writing a book on a hot topic that needs to be discussed openly, he didn’t really have much to say other than victims stay victims and women have poor body image. If anything he hurt the male cause because he painted the male characters as stereotypical creepers who visit strip clubs frequently and participate in black mail.
I guess after writing this review I realized I didn’t like it that much. I will say that I was eager to see what happened to the prostitute and that’s what kept me reading. The writing was good and the story had my attention for a short time, but the ending was awful. There was no legitimate reason for what happened and it confused me even more about what the author wanted the reader to take away.
STARS: 2.5 out of 5