Review: The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian 978-0385538893     Doubleday 336 Pages; First Printing: January 2016

Easy reading for a difficult subject, Chris Bohjalian’s The Guest Room is an amazing display of narrative skill, supported by employing an uncompromising storytelling structure. We first meet Richard Chapman at home in a tony New York suburb where he is hosting his younger brother’s bachelor party. The party goes off the rails when hours later the two strippers kill the two guards, the two mobsters employed by their Russian captors.
The story seesaws between a third person limited view of Richard, his wife and his daughter, and a first person narrative from Alexandra. Her story blooms in Russia, after the fall of communism. She paints a gloomy landscape where men create any opportunity to capitalize on the misfortunes of people; where men snake their way into family lives only to snatch young girls and force them into the sex trade. Alexandra was lured from her home city in Armenia, via a bait-and-switch dream that she would go to Moscow to continue her ballet studies. She was only fifteen. She was raped and forced into prostitution, a sex slave with no freedom, barely an hour of sunlight daily. Years later, she is in New York working the Chapman bachelor party. In the aftermath of the murders, she is on the run, while Richard tries to save his marriage and his job and interpret his evolving feelings for the young woman with whom he shared a brief encounter in his guest room. Bohjalian balances a strong editorializing slant when it comes to the various sex work labels, and the conflict the distinctions present for a wife with a young daughter – both battling feelings of betrayal by the leading man in their lives. The novel takes two shifts a reader might feel is unnecessary, especially by how Bohjalian resolves them. Overall, The Guest Room is a worthy read meant to shake those who do not proceed with caution.

Recommendation: MEDIUM
Reviewed by Guichard Cadet