After my last Bohjalian experience, I was eager to devour another novel by him. Even though there were some unsettling story lines in The Night Strangers, I LOVED it. I thought Bohjalian was especially gifted at transporting the reader into his stories and allowing you to feel as though you’re experiencing the same emotions as the characters. And in the The Guest Room, he did it again. Which is exactly why I couldn’t finish this book.
I picked this one up at the library because I was drawn to the quote on the cover by Geraldine Brooks:
“Couples the urgency of a compulsively readable crime thriller with a quiet meditation on the meaning of family.”
Being a lover of thrillers and a mother that thinks about my role in my family, I thought this would be a perfect pick for me. I was thinking something along the lines of a Tana French novel, but was very off the mark!
This novel opens with a bachelor party for the brother of Richard, one of the central characters. The bachelor party is being thrown at Richard’s home, while Richard’s wife and daughter are staying with his mother in law. While discussing the party, Richard and his wife predicted that someone would call in strippers; Richard realized that, surprisingly, the young women that came were actually prostitutes.
We quickly learn (this is no spoiler, it happens within the first three chapters), that the young women are actually victims of human trafficking from Russia. The young women show the party-goers a very wild night that Bohjalian describes in detail. Near the end of the party, in a moment of desperation, the young women murder their body guards (the henchmen hired by the human traffickers to collect the money that the women receive and make sure that they return to their, well, prison) and then escape.
The murder is quite gory and ruins the room in which it took place. Richard has to call his wife to share what happened – and shares some of his own behaviors at the bachelor party, which she is shocked by.
And this is about where I had to stop — While graphic sex doesn’t usually bother me, this one pushed a lot of my “ick” buttons. Because it was forced prostitution by very young girls in a family’s home – where this family eats, sleeps, and plays – it was just too much. I was also astounded and sickened by Richard and his choices during the party. In fairness to the character, it was probably a common “male” reaction to having easy access to sex and even benign compared to some of the other party-goers, but I have little patience for married men acting this way.
I’m not sure if I am just in an especially sensitive place given last weekend’s mass shooting in Orlando, but I just couldn’t go there, which made this is a disappointing pick for me. I do want to try more of Bohjalian’s work, so I will definitely return to the library and try to find something else that might be a little more gentle!