There are lots of authors I read because I like their work. There are far fewer authors I read because I like who they seem to be as people. And I will read anything Chris Bohjalian publishes because from what I can tell, he’s a genuinely nice guy.
No, I’ve never met him, not even at a book signing, so it’s entirely possible my impression of him is wrong. However, social media offers a (slightly voyeuristic) inside look at the lives of our favorite authors that pre-Internet readers didn’t have. We’re no longer basing judgments solely on what writers produce in between the covers of their books. Some authors manage their social media presence well, giving fans a glimpse into their lives without oversharing. We feel like we know them a little better (“I didn’t know she liked to knit!” “Aww, he has a cute cat!”), but in a benign way. (It should be noted that others handle themselves with less grace, succumbing to the temptation to engage with amateur critics and trolls, and we all know there’s no way for an author to come out looking anything but petty and whiny in that situation.)
Bohjalian has one of the most adorable, upbeat social media feeds you’ll ever have the pleasure of reading. Just one example: He posted a photo of himself with his daughter at one of the World Series games, with the caption indicating he was rooting for the Mets. A fan commented that she loved his books, but “Go Royals!”, to which Bohjalian responded, “Your team is amazing, too!” See what I mean? Adorable.
So yeah, I’ll be first in line to read and promote the guy’s books—and not just because he was nice about my Royals. He also brings the talent. His latest offering, like many of his prior novels, deals with heavy subject matter, this time taking a deep, personal dive into human trafficking and sex slavery. There are two main characters: Richard, a middle-aged investment banker who hosts a bachelor party for his younger, freewheeling brother, and Alexandra, an orphaned teenage girl kidnapped into the sex trade and brought to the US from Armenia. Richard assumes the other guys might hire a stripper or two for the party, but instead they hire Alexandra and Sonja, who are forced by their Russian handlers to be much more than strippers.
And the night brings more than drunken revelry. By the end of the party, Richard’s living room and front hall are splattered with blood, two people are dead, and two more are on the run. His formerly stable life—his relationship with his wife and nine-year-old daughter, his prestigious, lucrative job, his reputation—all in shambles. Perhaps worst of all, he can’t forget Alexandra’s face, or the guilt he feels over what happened that night.
The Guest Room is the story of a man and a young woman trying to put their lives back together. It’s necessarily dark at times, and honestly, not very fun to read. Part of me wasn’t sure I wanted to examine human trafficking quite so closely. But the last third of the book accelerates so quickly, I couldn’t put it down. Bohjalian has engaged with an important topic and portrayed the harsh reality sensitively and honestly.
Plus, he has cute cats.
With regards to Doubleday and NetGalley for the advance copy. On sale 5 January 2016.