The Guest Room

By Chris Bohjalian

(Knopf Doubleday, $25.95, 336 pages)

Who is this author?

Chris Bohjalian, many of whose books have been described in Under the Covers,  has published 18 books, including Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands, The Sandcastle Girls, Skeletons at the Feast, The Double Bind, and Midwives, which became a No. 1 New York Times bestseller and was an Oprah’s Book Club selection. His Secrets of Eden, Midwives and Past the Bleachers were adapted as films. He lives in Vermont with his wife, and for many years wrote a weekly column for the Burlington Free Press. He has spoken in Connecticut several times in recent years about his books, which range from historical novels to contemporary examinations of family and relationships.

What is this book about?

Richard Chapman and his wife, Kristin  think they are being generous and supportive when they agree to host his younger brother Philip’s bachelor party at their gracious  Westchester home. But their goodwill goes terribly wrong when the party degenerates into drunken orgy territory and the “entertainment” — two Russian strippers controlled by truculent “bodyguards” — are killed as the women try to escape their life as sex slaves. The Chapmans are forced out of their home by the police, as it is now a crime scene, their marriage founders over Richard’s encounter with one of the strippers in the house’s guest room and his banking career is put on hold. Things are even worse for Alexandra, the dark-haired stripper, who is now fleeing the cops and her deadly and dangerous handlers from the sex-trafficking world. Next comes blackmail, as the Chapmans try to dig themselves out of the moral cesspool into which they have fallen, and Alexandra tries to stay alive.

Why you’ll like it:

This is a literary thriller, which is book-industry-speak for a suspenseful book in which the skill of the writing is as important as the convoluted plot. Bohjalian, as his many fans know, is a born storyteller, and in The Guest Room he has invented quite a story to tell.

What others are saying:

Library Journal says: “In another fresh and different novel from the New York Times best-selling Bohjalian, Richard Chapman was prepared for a mess when he opens his home to his younger brother’s bachelor party. But he wasn’t expecting an intimate moment with one of the women hired as entertainment before she and her coworker (both naked) stab their Russian bodyguards to death and flee into the night. Richard is tossed from his crime-scene house by the police, put on indefinite leave by his investment bank, and cold-shouldered by his wife, and that’s just the beginning in this tale of escalating suspense.”

Says Publishers Weekly: “In his latest novel, Bohjalian stacks the deck against his well-to-do main character, Richard Chapman, who holds a bachelor party in his Bronxville home for his younger brother, Philip. Richard sends his wife and daughter into Manhattan for the night, a good thing, because the two strippers hired for the occasion turn out to be Russian sex slaves, who kill the two pimps who accompany them to the party before fleeing into the night. Earlier, one of them, a beautiful Armenian girl named Alexandra, almost managed to seduce Richard before he changes his mind. In the aftermath of the murders, Richard is turned out of his house, which has become a crime scene with reporters camped outside, and forced to hire a lawyer. As the consequences of the night pile up, Richard becomes estranged from his wife, is banned from his office, and finds himself the target of a blackmailer from the party who has an incriminating cell phone video of him and Alexandra. And then there is Alexandra herself, who returns to the scene of the crime, tailed by her seriously scary Russian bosses. It is to the author’s credit that he takes this situation and makes it somewhat credible. Juxtaposed against the upper-class setting is Alexandra’s own account of being sold into slavery, which deserves a less sudsy book of its own. “

Kirkus Reviews says: “Bohjalian’s latest ripped-from-the-headlines cautionary tale concerns a very poorly planned bachelor party. Richard Chapman, a middle-aged investment banker with a lower Manhattan firm, makes one mistake that will upend his life: he hosts a bachelor party at his suburban Bronxville home for his feckless younger brother, Philip, manager of a boutique hotel in Chelsea. Richard’s wife, Kristin, a good sport about the impending high jinks, is spending the weekend at her mother’s in Manhattan with their 9-year-old daughter, Melissa, to allow the boys to be boys. Although he was expecting a stripper, Richard definitely failed to anticipate that the entertainment procured by Philip’s hotelier friends would actually be two possibly underage Russian girls and their menacing bodyguards, who forbid the men to take cellphone pictures but encourage everything else. Soon the high jinks are devolving into an outright orgy. As the men take turns with one of the girls, Sonja, the other, Alexandra, takes Richard up to the guest room, where he declines to do more than talk. Alternating with the narratives of Richard and his family is Alexandra’s chronicle of her enslavement. After her mother dies, the talented young dancer is tricked by a trusted family friend, who arranges for her to travel from her native Armenia to Moscow—for a ballet audition, she thinks. Instead, she’s raped and then trafficked in Russia until she’s 19, when she is removed, along with Sonja and another girl, Crystal, to New York. At the party, Sonja, who knows that the guards, Pavel and Kirill, murdered Crystal, fatally stabs Pavel with one of Kristin’s butcher knives. Kirill is shot and killed in the fray, and the girls escape. From there the plot thickens with blackmail threats, Internet defamation, employment discrimination, and marital meltdown, as Richard compounds his original error with even more implausible lapses in judgment. Character development takes a back seat in this exposé of human trafficking, and Bohjalian’s treatment often wavers between prurience and polemic. A compulsively readable train wreck.”

When is it available?

This book is on the shelves at the Mark Twain and Goodwin branches of the Hartford Public Library and will soon be available at the Downtown library and the Dwight and Camp Field branches.

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