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Bohjalian’s ‘Secrets of Eden’ Receives Wide Critical Acclaim

Secrets of Eden
By Chris Bohjalian
Hardcover: 400 pp. New York.
Shaye Areheart Books. $25.

Chris Bohjalian’s latest novel, Secrets of Eden, is a skillfully weaved tale, a net of secrets, with a murder at its center. The story is set in a Vermont suburb, where “…murder-suicides are blessedly uncommon.” The victim is Alice Hayward, strangled by her husband, George Hayward, who then commits suicide. But as the plot develops and we meet the state attorney, it becomes clear that not everyone is convinced that George’s death was a suicide.

Chris Bohjalian’s latest novel, Secrets of Eden, is a skillfully weaved tale, a net of secrets, with a murder at its center.

“I tend to write about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances,” says Bohjalian. “So Secrets of Eden isn’t just about Alice Hayward’s murder, it’s about the whole community, the whole town. What did they know, what should they have done, what didn’t they do.”

Hence, these pages are narrated by not just one, but four narrators: Reverend Stephen Drew, Catherine Benincasa (the state attorney), Heather Laurent (the author of self-help books about angels), and Katie Hayward (the daughter of Alice and George Hayward). In addition, all four narrations are interjected with excerpts from Heather Laurent’s self-help books, which illuminate, clarify, and help the reader digest the themes that arise in these pages.

Each narration offers an entirely subjective perspective of the events and characters involved. Bohjalian has clearly done his research, which, to me, is most evident in the second part of the novel, when Benincasa, the mother of two small boys, assumes the role of pilot, or narrator. Soon, we find out that Benincasa had always been “fascinated” by stories “about husbands who murdered their wives, drug dealers who machine-gunned federal agents, serial killers who had children buried in their basement and backyards.” Her narration navigates between Catherine the attorney, recapping the details of the Hayward case, and Catherine the “sentinel” mother, offering anecdotes and observations on her two children and husband. At times the two converge to present a fuller picture of Catherine’s own self and actions, while offering commentary on domestic violence from this powerful and yet vulnerable position. She is “fascinated” by Alice Hayward’s diary, not so much by its content, but because she herself (as she claims) has “just never been all that introspective.” Yet, at times, her narration hints to the contrary. And so, Bohjalian has created characters that are at first glance simple and discernable, but in actuality are as complex and even contradictory as any living and breathing person may be.

In an interview with the author, Armenian Weekly editor Khatchig Mouradian asked, “Women figure prominently in many of your novels. Talk about the challenge of writing a novel like Midwives or The Double Bind, where delving into the psyche of the characters is key.”

Bohjalian responded, “I wish I could say there was a specific process, but I don’t find writing about women that different from writing about men. In each case, it’s an act of imagination… In the last decade, I have written novels or scenes within novels from the perspectives of (among others) a midwife, a transsexual lesbian, a vigorous female senior citizen, an African-American foster child, a 10-year-old girl, an 18-year-old female Prussian aristocrat in 1945, a young Jewish man from Germany who has jumped off a train on the way to a death camp in 1943, and a variety of balding middle-aged men. I actually found this last category—the balding middle-aged men who are like me—the least interesting.”

Secrets of Eden has debuted on a variety of bestseller lists: the New York Times at #6, Publishers Weekly at #6, National Indie List at #10, and New England Booksellers Association at #3.

Meanwhile, novelist and Cosmopolitan editor John Searles featured Secrets of Eden on his winter roundup of books to read on the NBC Today Show on Jan. 30.

Bohjalian is the author of 12 other novels, including the New York Times bestsellers, Skeletons at the Feast, The Double Bind, Before You Know Kindness, The Law of Similars, and Midwives.

He won the New England Book Award in 2002, while 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 26 languages and has twice been made into movies (“Midwives” and “Past the Bleachers”).

Nanore Barsoumian is a staff writer for the Armenian Weekly.

***

What do critics have to say about Secrets of Eden?

“Bohjalian’s 13th novel is his most splendid accomplishment to date…Verdict: A fantastic choice for book clubs… Breathtaking.”
—Library Journal, Starred Review

Bohjalian “drops bombshell clues…and weaves subtle nuances of doubt and intrigue into a taut, read-in-one-sitting murder mystery.”
—Booklist, Starred and Boxed Review

“Bohjalian 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…this is a masterfully human and compassionate tale.”
— Publishers Weekly, Starred and Boxed Review

“Chris Bohjalian has always known how to keep the pages turning. In his latest novel, a small Vermont hamlet has been racked by a well-established couple’s apparent murder-suicide. Bohjalian describes the aftermath of that ruinous night in varied voices, effortlessly slipping into the heads of the shaken local pastor, the no-nonsense deputy state attorney, and the best-selling author whose own past draws her to the scene of the crime… [A] study of guilt and grief.”
— Entertainment Weekly

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List of author appearances

February 13 (Saturday)
6 p.m.
Highlands Ranch Library
9292 Ridgeline Blvd.
Highlands Ranch, Colo.
Secrets of Eden
Note: This is a $10 ticketed fundraising event for the Douglas County Libraries Foundation.
 
February 16 (Tuesday)
12:30 p.m.
Borders
1801 K Street NW
Washington, D.C.
Secrets of Eden
 
February 16 (Tuesday)
7:30 p.m.
Borders
5871 Crossroads Center Way
Baileys Crossroads, Va.
Secrets of Eden

February 17 (Wednesday)
11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Tuckahoe Women’s Club
Richmond, Va.
(804) 257-7251
Secrets of Eden
 
February 23 (Tuesday)
2:30-4 p.m.
Adolph and Rose Levis Jewish Community Center
Boca Raton, Fla.
(561) 852-3200
Skeletons at the Feast and Secrets of Eden
 
February 24 (Wednesday)
8 p.m.
Books & Books
Coral Gables, Fla.
Secrets of Eden
 
February 25 (Thursday)
7-9:30 p.m.
Players Club Bar and Restaurant
Wellington, Fla.
(561) 676-4104
Skeletons at the Feast and Secrets of Eden
Note: This is a $36 ticketed event.
 
February 26-27 (Friday-Saturday)
“Much Ado About Reading” Book Festival
Jacksonville, Fla.
Secrets of Eden

March 3 (Wednesday)
7 p.m.
Barnes & Noble
1271 Knapp Road
North Wales, PA
Secrets of Eden
 
March 4 (Thursday)
7:30 p.m.
Quail Ridge
3522 Wade Avenue
Raleigh, N.C.
Secrets of Eden
 
March 5 (Friday)
12 p.m.
Literary Bookpost
110 S. Main Street
Salisbury, N.C.
Secrets of Eden
 
March 5 (Friday)
7 p.m.
Regulator
720 Ninth Street
Durham, N.C.
Secrets of Eden
 
March 6 (Saturday)
11 a.m.
McIntyre’s
2000 Fearrington Village Center
Pittsboro, N.C.
Secrets of Eden
 
March 23 (Tuesday)
7 p.m.
Bear Pond Books
77 Main Street
Montpelier, Vt.
Secrets of Eden
 
March 25 (Thursday)
7 p.m.
Briggs Carriage Bookstore
16 Park Street
Brandon, Vt.
Secrets of Eden
 
March 26 (Friday)
7 p.m.
Northshire Bookstore
4869 Main Street
Manchester Center, Vt.
Secrets of Eden
 
April 1 (Thursday)
7 p.m.
The Flying Pig
5247 Shelburne Road
Shelburne, Vt.
Secrets of Eden
 
April 7 (Wednesday)
7-8:30 p.m.
Rutland Public Library
Novels in the Digital Age
Rutland, Vt.
Secrets of Eden
 
April 11 (Sunday)
3-4:30 p.m.
Concord Bookshop
65 Main Street
Concord, Mass.
Secrets of Eden

April 12 (Thursday)
7-8:30 p.m.
Jewish Community Center of Greater Boston (Newton)
Boston, MA
(617) 558-6522
Skeletons at the Feast
 
April 13 (Tuesday)
7:30-9 p.m.
Mandell Jewish Community Center of Hartford
Hartford, Conn.
(860) 236-4571
Skeletons at the Feast
April 26 (Monday)
“Alice Hoffman’s Tenth Anniversary Breast Cancer Evening with Your Favorite Authors”
The Art Theater
Cambridge, Mass.

July 24 (Saturday)
Evening Speech
League of Vermont Writers Annual Meeting
Grand Summit Lodge
Mount Snow, Vt.

September 8 (Wednesday)
11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.
 Fundraising Luncheon for the Domestic Violence Resource Center of South County
Wakefield, R.I.
Secrets of Eden

4 Comments on Bohjalian’s ‘Secrets of Eden’ Receives Wide Critical Acclaim

  1. I see this sentence above: ” a young Jewish man from Germany who has jumped off a train on the way to a death camp in 1943 …”.

    Has Chris written anything about Armenians lately?

  2. it’s interesting that this plot is described as that which has to do with a whole community – what they did, what they failed to do …  Perhaps this is a recurring Armenian theme.  It reminds me of Atom Egoyan’s films.  By the way, the past tense of “weave” is “woven.”

  3. Well, Michael, Chris has written about Armenians on many occasions. One recent example is this: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/04/03/AR2009040301894.html

  4. Dear Janine,
    According to the Oxford English Dictionary both “weaved” and “woven” are correct.

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