Secrets of Eden: A Novel Paperback – Feb 1 2011
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A "Must-Read Book for Spring," Today Show, Weekend Edition
IndieBound Indie Next pick, February 2010
"Superb. . . .Fans of Bohjalian's 11 other novels (including Midwives) know to expect the unexpected and, thanks to his creativity and cunning, readers usually get walloped by one heck of a plot twist by book's end. In Secrets of Eden, the old saw that none of us knows what really goes on in a house when the shades are drawn rings chillingly true."
—Carol Memmott, USA Today
"Superbly written - vivid and horrifying without being melodramatic....a tribute to Bohjalian's storytelling skill."
—The Boston Globe
"Suspenseful. . .searing. . .Bohjalian has written a literary murder mystery that hooks readers early and keeps its secrets until the end. . .Bohjalian's book is about the power of secrets and sacrifice and a warning against jumping to judgment. Those who doubt their faith, he writes, are sometimes the strongest among us."
—Amy Driscoll, The Miami Herald
“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.”
"Page-turning. . .Bohjalian has a knack for creating nuanced, detailed first-person female characters. . .SECRETS OF EDEN speeds along pleasingly as both thriller and character study."
“To call this fine novel a mystery would be like calling the Hallelujah Chorus a nice song. . .Bohjalian has written a gripping story that keeps the reader turning pages to find out what really happened...But there is so much more in this rich story. Bohjalian delves into the profound mysteries of human existence. What is faith? What is love? And who are really the angels among us?"
"[A] suspenseful page-turner...This book will entertain you with its suspense, but it will also make you think about how hurtful secrets can be."
"Secrets are sprinkled throughout a Chris Bohjalian novel like loose change spilled from the pockets of a master storyteller. . .exquisite. . .magic is rediscovered in 'Secrets of Eden.'"
—Tom Mayer, Lake City Reporter
“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. The morning after her baptism into the Rev. Stephen Drew’s Vermont Baptist church, Alice Hayward and her abusive husband are found dead in their home, an apparent murder-suicide. Stephen, the novel’s first narrator, is so racked with guilt over his failure to save Alice that he leaves town. Soon, he meets Heather Laurent, the author of a book about angels whose own parents’ marriage also ended in tragedy. Stephen’s deeply sympathetic narration is challenged by the next two narrators: deputy state attorney Catherine Benincasa, whose suspicions are aroused initially by Stephen’s abrupt departure (and then by questions about his relationship with Alice), and Heather, who distances herself from Stephen for similar reasons and risks the trip into her dark past by seeking out Katie, the Haywards’ now-orphaned 15-year-old daughter who puts into play the final pieces of the puzzle, setting things up for a touching twist. Fans of Bohjalian’s more exotic works will miss learning something new, but this is a masterfully human and compassionate tale.”
—Publishers Weekly, starred and boxed 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's most splendid accomplishment to date. . .A fantastic choice for book clubs, this novel deals beautifully with controversial topics of domestic abuse, faith, and adultery without resorting to sensationalism. Breathtaking."
—Library Journal, starred review
“Specificity and complexity and. . .a somber power.”
Praise for Skeletons at the Feast
“Suspenseful. . .romantic. . .a deeply satisfying novel.”
-- The Washington Post Book World
"Poignant. . .Harrowing. . . Bohjalian has given us an important addition to the story of World War II."
—The Boston Globe
“Ingenious. . .compelling. . .Judging who's right or wrong is difficult and one senses that's just the way Bohjalian wants it.”
-- Los Angeles Times
“Mixes the nail-biting brutality of The Kite Runner with the emotional intimacy of Anne Frank's diary."
— Austin American-Statesman
Praise for The Double Bind
“The Double Bind is simply one of the best written, most compelling, artfully woven novels to grace bookshelves in years. Immediately after the spellbinding surprise ending, readers will want to begin again at the first page. It’s THAT good.”
– Associated Press
“Artfully constructed and fiercely felt. . . Bohjalian. . .has deliberately wandered into thriller territory. . .He's playing with our minds in a way that ultimately evokes not Fitzgerald but that master of deviousness, Alfred Hitchcock."
— The Miami Herald
"Terrifying. . .Laurel is an unforgettable, vulnerable, complicated character."
—The Los Angeles Times
From the Hardcover edition.
About the Author
CHRIS BOHJALIAN is the critically acclaimed author of twelve novels, including the New York Times bestsellers Skeletons at the Feast, The Double Bind, and Midwives. His novel, Midwives, was a number one New York Times bestseller and a selection of Oprah’s Book Club. His work has been translated into more than 25 languages and twice became movies (Midwives and Past the Bleachers). He lives in Vermont with his wife and daughter.
Visit him at www.ChrisBohjalian.com or on Facebook.
From the Hardcover edition.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Secrets of Eden takes place in the small town of Haverill, Vermont. The story is told through the perspectives of four central characters. From the very first pages the reader gets a feel of what is going on in the mind of Reverend Stephen Drew of the local Baptist Church......
(p.3) "On those sorts of Sundays, whenever someone would stand and ask for prayers for something relatively minor -- a promotion, traveling mercies, a broken leg that would surely mend --I would find myself thinking as I stood in the pulpit, 'Get a spine, you bloody ingrate! Buck Up! That lady behind you is about to lose her husband to pancreatic cancer, and you're whining about your difficult boss? Oh please! -- I never said that sort of thing aloud, but I think it is only because I'm from a particularly mild mannered suburb of New York City, and so my family has to be drunk, to be cutting. I did love my congregation, but I also knew that I had an inordinate number of whiners."
And, while all small towns have their secrets, no one including the Rev. Drew, was prepared for what would happen on the very day he baptized one of his own parishioners. On the very day that Alice Hayward came to be baptized in Brookner's pond, she along with her husband George would be found dead. The Haywards, along with their teenage daughter Katie were prominent members of the community. At first their deaths were believed to be a murder-suicide, but when the State's attorney, Catherine Benincasa, begins to investigate she is not so sure. Slowly secrets are revealed, which help to unravel the mystery behind the deaths.
I don't want to reveal too much more about this story other than to say that there was one other prominent character in the story which I feel I need to mention. Heather Laurent is an author of spiritual books about angels. While Heather is in the area giving a talk at Bennington College, she hears about the murder-suicide and visits Rev. Drew to see if she can provide some spiritual assistance. Heather seems drawn to the Reverend, and becomes somewhat of a mentor to 15-year old Katie Hayward. Heather, like Katie, lost her parents to spousal abuse when she was about Katie's age.
MY THOUGHTS - In this riveting literary suspense novel, the author does a wonderful job with a difficult subject --spousal abuse, and its effects on a family and community. The author has created a vivid sense of place, a believable story, well drawn out characters and surprises along the way. Readers who enjoy compelling novels that touch on human emotions should not be disappointed with Secrets of Eden. RECOMMENDED
Heather Laurent, author of two best-selling books about the existence of angels, is drawn to the tragedy, to Stephen and to Katie, because of her personal history. Angels have had a profound influence on Heather's daily existence; in fact, the appearance of an angel has saved her from a suicide attempt. It is only natural, then, that Heather should find herself at the rectory with Rev. Drew, and through him to Katie, Alice's daughter. The immediate spark between minister and author is undeniable, he of dwindling faith, she full of grace. But reality is seldom as it appears, Heather ultimately facing yet another test of her soul: "I had allowed my mortal judgment to cloud my celestial instincts."
When forensics evidence indicates murder, States Attorney Catherine Benincasa is not inclined toward existential discussions of faith or the beneficence of angels. Hers is a world of cold, hard facts and the facts point to one particular suspect. As local residents clamor for a resolution to the murders within their midst, Benincasa's boss bows to the pressure of his constituency, demanding results sooner rather than later. It is only for lack of critical evidence that the main suspect remains free. Then there is Katie, coping with the enormity of her loss and navigating a place suddenly filled with gossip about her parents and befriended by an ethereal angel of mercy, Heather.
The issue of domestic abuse takes center stage as a primary character, a husband's rage fueled by alcohol, his wife suffering in silence until her death reveals the ugly secrets and collateral damage of a family in crisis. Like a puppeteer, Bohjalian manipulates suspicions, reactions, an unexpected romance and reality obscured by each character's personal prejudices. Bedeviled by moral ambiguity, Secrets of Eden is filled with small, painful truths, angels and horrors dancing unrestrained on the head of a pin. Luan Gaines/2010.
The story starts out just after the deaths of George and Alice Hayward, in an apparent murder/suicide. The location is a small town in Vermont, where many knew that Alice was an abused wife.
The story is broken up into several sections, each narrated by a different person. We hear from the town pastor, who harbors a guilty secret. We hear from a woman who writes books about angels, who becomes involved because her own parents killed themselves in a murder/suicide. We hear from law enforcement, and from family members, including Katie, the only child of the Haywards who is rightfully traumatized by her parents death.
What's nice about this technique of multiple narrators, is that we get a Rashomon like effect - each narrator tells their perspective of the facts, and it is only at the end when we know the complete truth, and how some of what we were told was wrong.
This story is not only a mystery, but also an informative look at spousal battery and alcoholism, and their effect on family members. In fact, we see how addiction and abuse affect can often hinder our ability to make social and personal connections later on in life.
Recommended. If you have enjoyed Chris Bohjalian books in the past, such as Midwives or The Double Bind, you will probably enjoy this.
I ordered this book because I found Midwives enchanting, tightly plotted, and well written. Unfortunately, I found Secrets of Eden disappointing from page one, though I kept reading because I expected the plot's intricacies to outweigh the burden of Bohjalian's inelegant prose.
The plot didn't pan out as interestingly as I expected; Bohjalian throws a twist at the end, same as he does Midwives, but after 362 pages of insultingly wordy chapters and unengaging characters, I just didn't care anymore.
Though the book is far too long and the characters boring, the worst crime this novel commits is the failure to "show, don't tell." I work with my 8th graders on this all the time. Bohjalian's editor could stand to teach him a couple of refreshers. I'm tempted to take my red pen to this book and send it back to Random House.
"The Hayward mess wasn't supposed to have any effing complications."
"Has anyone told you that you have the mouth of a teenager?"
"Teenagers don't say effing. No censorship there. And Paul says I sound more like a sailor, thank you very much. And he spends his life around teenagers: I think if I sounded like one, he would have told me by now."
The entire above exchange feels forced, artificial, and unnecessarily repetitive.
"I saw concretely in my mind the way the medical examiner in our corner of New York had placed each of their bodies on the slanted steel table--slanted for drainage--and meticulously described aloud precisely the physical characteristics of each of my parents."
I think about half of the above sentence could be eliminated, starting with the expression between the em dashes and the redundant "meticulously" and "precisely" at the end.
And the worst . . .
"She knew what it was like to suddenly be an orphan (and I am an orphan) and to feel all the time like you're an imposition. And that is what I felt like."
Where do I start? If the speaker, Katie, is saying that someone knew what it felt like to be an orphan, then obviously that is what SHE felt like. The whole passage is about being able to relate. Strike the last sentence. And what's with the parenthetical expression? The reader has known from page one that Katie is an orphan. We already know she sees herself as an orphan; on page 328, she says "Life in Club Orphan has its privileges." So why, on page 356, most of the way through the novel, does she have to reiterate that she IS an orphan?
It's because Bohjalian has no confidence in the reader. Page after page reminds us bluntly of what we've already been told. Reading through this condescending nonsense is a lot of work for very little payout at the end.