Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian

The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian

Richard Chapman, a well-off investment banker living in Westchester, decides to be a good big brother and host his younger brother’s bachelor party at his house.  Richard sends his wife and daughter to their grandmother’s house in New York City for the weekend and is mentally prepared for some adult entertainment and some cleanup.  Things don’t go as he planned.  The best man is in charge of booking the strippers but he hires girls willing to do much more for their clients.  Sophie and Alexandra arrive with two burly (scary) bodyguards in tow.  Before the night of debauchery comes to an end the two women murder their bodyguards and flee.  The police believe that the two were Russian sex slaves forced into prostitution; what follows is the aftermath of that Friday night party in the suburbs.

The story is told in alternating points of view between Richard, his wife and Alexandra, which makes the story much deeper than it would otherwise have been.  From Richard we get his confusion on how something so simple could go so wrong, as well as his guilt over what happened during the party and his frustration and disgust with the reaction of some of the (willing) participants.  His wife has to deal with her feelings of betrayal as well as public scrutiny of the events that occurred in her home.  But the real interesting point of view is Alexandra’s.  Forced into prostitution at a very young age she is nineteen and has been in America only a few short months.  She tells the story of her life as a sex slave in a straightforward manner.  She doesn’t sugar coat anything, but she tells it as it happened with the attitude that what already happened is in the past and she can’t dwell on it or go crazy. 

I listened to this book and it was a good, yet difficult listen.  Again, Alexandra didn’t focus on the bad things and how it made her feel, but she told you exactly what happened to her, and it wasn’t easy to hear.  The audiobook uses two readers, one for Alexandra in a Russian accent with language issues, mostly dropped articles, and another to read all the American sections.  This method really made Alexandra come to life.

The ethical and legal quandaries the Americans in the book encounter are interesting and make you think (and scowl in disgust a lot of the time) but it is Alexandra and your hopes for her that make you keep reading.  Will give you one warning, the ending is more Jodi Picoult than Bohjalian in my opinion – but it fits and I think most people will like it.