Monday, July 1, 2013

The Double Bind

I'm fresh off of spending some fictional time in Vermont, the setting of both of the last two books that I read. First up was The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian, a novel that offers up the intriguing premise that Jay Gatsby and Daisy and Tom Buchanan weren't fictional characters from The Great Gatsby, but were instead actual historical figures from the 1920s. In the present-day action of the novel, the protagonist is Laurel Estabrook, a twenty-something woman who works at a homeless shelter in Burlington, Vermont, where she attended college. Laurel is familiar with the Gatsby and Buchanan names, which were notorious in the area of Long Island where she grew up. When she begins working on curating a collection of photos that were left behind by one of the shelter's deceased residents, she finds herself confronted by the Gatsby saga, which seems to have mysterious ties to both the photo collection and to Laurel's own past.

In my mind, one strike against this book was the fact that Bohjalian seemed to approach the Gatsby-related elements of the novel from a point of view that ignored the larger themes of Fitzgerald's novel and reduced his characters to shallow, selfish caricatures. I realize that this is a somewhat common stance (made apparent to me by some of the articles I read surrounding the recent film adaptation earlier this summer), but it's one that is decidedly opposed to my own view of Fitzgerald's work. Bohjalian's focus on only the flaws of the Gatsby characters made me feel slightly at odds with his book, not to mention perfectly willing to notice the flaws of his writing style, which frequently drifted off into unnecessary, cliche descriptions of peripheral details that added nothing to the story. Yet in spite of these two big complaints, I actually found The Double Bind to be a pretty engrossing read. It was clear that events were building to some kind of major revelation, which had me racing through to the end to see if I was correct in the plot twist that I suspected (I was, to a certain extent). Though the ending wasn't quite as satisfying as it could have been, the overall effect of The Double Bind is an entertaining, if flawed, read that will interest--even if it slightly annoys--Gatsby fans.

Are there any books that you've enjoyed, even while disliking specific elements of them?

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