Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Before You Know Kindness - Chris Bohjalian

No matter how many Chris Bohjalian books I read, he always seems to have more.  Like his most famous book, Midwives, this one concerns a single tragic incident (here the shooting of a father by his own daughter), and then builds a story around the question of intent (did the daughter shoot her father accidentally or did she knowingly pull the trigger?).  The question is never definitively answered, but the way each character in the book decides to view the situation affects their interactions with everyone else, and crucial decisions they make about each other and their own futures.  Unlike Midwives and some of Bohjalian's other novels (Trans-Sister Radio and Buffalo Soldier, for example), I didn't find this one as compelling.  I found the behavior of the daughter - while perhaps realisitc - incredibly annoying as she attempts to hide crucial information about the night of the shooting.  The father is also a vegan animal rights activist who is portrayed as a borderline psychotic because of his beliefs - which don't actually seem all that crazy.  So much of what threatens to tear the family apart post-shooting seems focused on this group he belongs to.  While I appreciate a story that points out the ills of working too hard at the expense of one's home life - I thought the negative treatment of vegetarianism and veganism in the book completely odd.  Perhaps this is a result of living in a part of the country where non-meat-eaters are basically mainstream, but I just didn't see it as creating as much conflict in life as this man's choices seemed to.  I feel like most of Bohjalian's books could serve as excellent springboards for discussions among high school students about the difference between right and wrong, and all the gray areas in between.  This one is definitely no different, but certainly not as complex or riveting as others he has written.

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