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Secrets of Eden: A Novel [Paperback]

Chris Bohjalian

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Product Description

Review

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.”
—Entertainment Weekly

"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."
—Seattle Times

 
“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?"
Winston-Salem Journal

"[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."
—Minneapolis Star-Tribune

"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.”
—Kirkus Reviews

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.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

From Chapter One

Stephen Drew

As a minister I rarely found the entirety of a Sunday service depressing. But some mornings disease and despair seemed to permeate the congregation like floodwaters in sandbags, and the only people who stood during the moment when we shared our joys and concerns were those souls who were intimately acquainted with nursing homes, ICUs, and the nearby hospice. Concerns invariably outnumbered joys, but there were some Sundays that were absolute routs, and it would seem that the only people rising up in their pews to speak needed Prozac considerably more than they needed prayer. Or yes, than they needed me.

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 surely would 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 that’s only because I’m from a particularly 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.

The Sunday service that preceded Alice Hayward’s baptism and death was especially rich in genuine human tragedy, it was just jam-packed with the real McCoy—one long ballad of ceaseless lamentation and pain. Moreover, as a result of that morning’s children’s message and a choir member’s solo, it was also unusually moving. The whiners knew that they couldn’t compete with the legitimate, no- holds- barred sort of torment that was besieging much of the congregation, and so they kept their fannies in their seats and their prayer requests to themselves.

That day we heard from a thirty- four- year- old lawyer who had al­ready endured twelve weeks of radiation for a brain tumor and was now in his second week of chemotherapy. He was on steroids, and so on top of everything else he had to endure the indignity of a sudden physical resemblance to a human blowfish. He gave the children’s message that Sunday, and he told the children—toddlers and girls and boys as old as ten and eleven—who surrounded him at the front of the church how he’d learned in the last three months that while some an­gels might really have halos and wings, he’d met a great many more who looked an awful lot like regular people. When he started to de­scribe the angels he’d seen—describing, in essence, the members of the church Women’s Circle who drove him back and forth to the hospital, or the folks who filled his family’s refrigerator with fresh veg­etables and homemade carrot juice, or the people who barely knew him yet sent cards and letters—I saw eyes in the congregation grow dewy. And, of course, I knew how badly some of those  half- blind old ladies in the Women’s Circle drove, which seemed to me a further in­dication that there may indeed be angels among us.

Then, after the older children had returned to the pews where their parents were sitting while the younger ones had been escorted to the playroom in the church’s addition so they would be spared the sec­ond half of the service (including my sermon), a fellow in the choir with a lush, robust tenor sang “It is well with my soul,” and he sang it without the accompaniment of our organist. Spafford wrote that hymn after his four daughters had drowned when their ship, the Ville de Havre, collided with another vessel and sank. When the tenor’s voice rose for the refrain for the last time, his hands before him and his long fingers steepling together before his chest, the congregation spontaneously joined him. There was a pause when they finished, fol­lowed by a great forward whoosh from the pews as the members of the church as one exhaled in wonder, “Amen....”

And so when it came time for our moment together of caring and sharing (an expression I use without irony, though I admit it sounds vaguely like doggerel and more than a little New Age), the people were primed to pour out their hearts. And they did. I’ve looked back at the notes I scribbled from the pulpit that morning—the names of the people for whom we were supposed to pray and exactly what ailed them—and by any objective measure there really was a lot of horror that day. Cancer and cystic fibrosis and a disease that would cost a newborn her right eye. A car accident. A house fire. A truck bomb in a land far away. We prayed for people dying at home, in area hospitals, at the hospice in the next town. We prayed for healing, we prayed for death (though we used that great euphemism relief ), we prayed for peace. We prayed for peace in souls that were turbulent and for peace in a corner of the world that was in the midst of a civil war.

By the time I began my sermon, I could have been as inspiring as a tax attorney and people would neither have noticed nor cared. I could have been awful—though the truth is, I wasn’t; my words at the very least transcended hollow that morning—and still they would have been moved. They were craving inspiration the way I crave sun­light in January. 
   
Nevertheless, that Sunday service offered a litany of the ways we can die and the catastrophes that can assail us. Who knew that the worst was yet to come? (In theory, I know the answer to that, but we won’t go there. At least not yet.) The particular tragedy that would give our little village its grisly notoriety was still almost a dozen hours away and wouldn’t begin to unfold until the warm front had arrived in the late afternoon and early evening and we had all begun to swelter over our dinners. There was so much still in between: the potluck, the baptism, the word.

Not the word, though I do see it as both the beginning and the end: In the beginning was the Word....

There. That was the word in this case. There.

“There,” Alice Hayward said to me after I had baptized her in the pond that Sunday, a smile on her face that I can only call grim. There.

The baptism immediately followed the Sunday service, a good old- fashioned,  once- a- year Baptist dunking in the Brookners’ pond. Behind me I heard the congregation clapping for Alice, including the members of the Women’s Circle, at least one of whom, like me, was aware of what sometimes went on in the house the Haywards had built together on the ridge.

None of them, I know now, had heard what she’d said. But even if they had, I doubt they would have heard in that one word exactly what I did, because that single syllable hadn’t been meant for them. It had been meant only for me.

“There,” I said to Alice in response. Nodding. Agreeing. Af ­firming her faith. A single syllable uttered from my own lips. It was the word that gave Alice Hayward all the reassurance she needed to go forward into the death that her husband may have been envisioning for her—perhaps even for the two of them—for years.


From Chapter Seven

Catherine Benincasa

My husband is a great guy. It doesn’t take a dirtball like George Hayward or Stephen Drew for me to see that. I think those two have a lot more in common than the reverend ever would be willing to admit.

But that’s the thing about men like that. Total denial. Everyone talks about how a battered woman has a complete unwillingness to admit to herself what’s really going on in her life, and I can tell you that the river Denial is indeed pretty freaking wide in the minds of a lot of those victims. The worst, for me, are those cases where some boyfriend or stepfather is abusing the woman’s daughters, and when we finally charge the bastard—when the daughter finally comes for-ward—the woman defends the guy! Takes his side! Insists her own kid must be making this up or exaggerating. Trust me: No  twelve- year- old girl exaggerates when Mom’s boyfriend makes her do things to him with her mouth.

And, clearly, Alice Hayward was no stranger to denial herself. When I returned to my office that Monday after viewing the mess up in Haverill, I learned that Alice had gotten a temporary relief- from- abuse    
order that winter. Had managed to kick her husband’s ornery ass out of the house and—somehow—gotten him to go live for a couple of months at their place on Lake Bomoseen. And then, like so many battered women, had taken him back. Hadn’t even shown up for the hearing a week after the papers were served.

But the men’s rationalizations are even worse. They’ll curl your hair.

Now, Stephen Drew wasn’t using some poor woman’s face as a floor sander, and he wasn’t inflicting himself on some defenseless middle- school girl. (Note I am not being catty and adding “as far as we know.” Because, in my opinion, we do know: He wasn’t.) But he certainly abused his place and his power, and he sure as hell took advantage of women in his congregation. For a minister, the guy had ice in his veins. Lived completely alone, didn’t even have a dog or a cat. He really creeped me out once when he went off on this riff about the Crucifixion as a form of execution. Very scholarly, but later it was clear that even his lawyer had wished he’d dialed down the serial- killer vibe.

And he was, like a lot of the real wife beaters, a great self- deluder.

And, perhaps, a great actor.

That morning I met him, he told me how he’d baptized Alice Hayward t...
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