Book Review: The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian

One-sentence summary:

Richard and his upper-class comrades have a boys’-night-in of stripper-laden debauchery, and it’s jolly fun and games until it all goes fatally wrong in The Guest Room, by Chris Bohjalian.

On its surface, The Guest Room reads like one of those morality plays, designed to scare you straight.

It smacks of the message in those Heaven’s Gates & Hell’s Flames plays: be Christian, or else demons will drag you screaming to Hell.

Or Reefer Madness: don’t smoke weed, or you’ll immediately descend into a life of crime and go insane.

Or Fatal Attraction: don’t have an affair, or else you’ll suddenly find yourself with a murderous stage-four clinger and a dead rabbit in your pot.

I guess this is the message for The Guest Room: don’t cavort with prostitutes or else you’ll inadvertently support Russian sex slavery and next thing you know, you’re stuck with a couple of dead thugs in your living room.

It’s a story of extremes.

But boy, what a good story Chris Bohjalian weaves!

This guy can tell a compelling, must power through until it’s done, story. Despite the big wagging finger this book seems to be, I have to admit this is a good read.

In Midwives, Bohjalian shows an impressive knowledge of childbirth and what it takes to facilitate it. It’s easy to see an equal dedication to the subject of sex slavery in The Guest Room. He knows his stuff, and he uses it in his stories to immerse us in the experience, to relate to the person as is we ourselves had experienced the same things.

Yes, this book is full of worst-case scenarios. It shows a man who does one very very wrong thing, and then follows it up with a series of right things. It shows a girl who tries to do right, but is forced to do so much wrong until she thinks she herself is wrong.

It’s a marriage imploding, a kid coming of age, and a friend turned enemy.

It’s a story I want to keep going.

Read Remark