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The Double Bind (2007)

by Chris Bohjalian

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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2,5231644,384 (3.64)133
Laurel Estabrook life changes drastically after being attacked. She goes from being outgoing to withdraw, her photography and work at a homeless shelter are now her life. Laurel meets Bobby, a mentally ill man, at the shelter with a box of photos he won't let anyone see. When he dies she discovers that he photographed celebrities. Laurel becomes obsessed and searches for the truth of his former life.… (more)

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Showing 1-5 of 162 (next | show all)
It's difficult to overstate how much I disliked this book. If you enjoy being elaborately set up for a "Gotcha!" moment--and clearly, many people do--then, by all means, read it. If, like me, you do not, then stay far away. The last time I remember feeling this way about a book was when I read Lionel Shriver's Big Brother. Bohjalian's premise is more interesting and well-executed than I remember Shriver's being, but it all came to a cheap device for me in the end, despite the author's stated reverence for his source material in the acknowledgments. ( )
  CaitlinMcC | Jul 11, 2021 |
fiction (PTSD and mental health, suspense/drama).
Not my favorite Bohjalian book so far, but an interesting read. ( )
  reader1009 | Jul 3, 2021 |
i think that bohjalian is a really good writer, but this is my least favorite that i've read so far, and his writing is less than solid here. there was enough of a flaw toward the beginning, as well, that i really didn't fall into the rest of it like i would have wanted to. and then a large, enormous, gargantuan flaw revealed at the end. it bothered me early on that i never believed that it made sense for laurel to believe that pamela was lying about her brother dying. it was known around town as having happened and she had no reason at all to disbelieve it. her fixating on his dying not being true, even in the light of oncoming mental illness, didn't make sense. bohjalian needed to give me a reason to think she had reason to think - other than a hunch - that he was really alive or that pamela and the family were lying. it doesn't matter that she was right; i just needed a reason to believe that she could believe it.

i was also annoyed by some of the concepts here. i don't know much about homelessness (it's even a blind spot for me, i'd say) but i'd venture a guess that - especially in the last couple of decades - that bankruptcy and medical costs are a leading reason for people becoming homeless. sure, mental illness is a big factor for many people, but maybe not *the* factor? even a sentence or two acknowledging this would have gone a long way, in my view. i also didn't really like his depiction of a trauma response. i know everyone reacts differently and that laurel reacts in one of the possible ways, but it's less typical and just rubbed me the wrong way.

all that said, it was relatively easy to keep reading this, and i liked being back, even just a bit, in a darkroom and with photography again. really cool, too, to weave characters from the great gatsby into the novel like he did. making them real and from her town like that was a really fun and interesting tribute to the classic. made me want to reread it. i suspect that this is probably the best handled part of the book, and if i remembered much of anything about gatsby i'd be able to note the overlapping themes and messages.

i guess bohjalian is kind of known for twists in his books and i guess it was supposed to be a twist that laurel is the patient being discussed through the book? i saw that pretty early on (i mean, not at the beginning, maybe halfway through) so wasn't surprised by that but was surprised to learn that the attack was much, much more severe than i'd thought. i believed her rendition of having been lucky enough to get away, although her trauma response probably makes a little more sense considering how devastating it ended up being. i also really didn't expect that the characters from the great gatsby were actually not real after all, so that was a nice turn at the end. but then, if pamela isn't real, and david's daughters aren't real, if they're all in laurel's head - then we shouldn't be given scenes without laurel where they exist, think, talk, have motivations. that is disingenuous and in the end, doesn't make sense to the reader. and the more i think about it, the more it means that the entire book doesn't work at all, is really mistakenly written and edited, and is simply frustrating. i mean there are scenes with these characters, some real some not, talking to each other and living their lives, when laurel is not there, and could not know of their interactions and conversations. if they are her delusions, they should not have complete lives without her. although i suppose she could imagine that they do. either way, it takes the premise bohjalian had as a surprise ending, and it's like he doesn't care if it fits into the rest of the book or not. and it doesn't. this knocks a full star off for me. ( )
  overlycriticalelisa | Nov 21, 2020 |
This one was a mind-bender. The premise is that Laurel Estabrook, a 20-something social worker is given a project by the homeless shelter director she works for: to catalog a box of photos left behind by one of the shelter's former clients upon his death. Bobby Crocker apparently had a talented and "famous" life before he became homeless, photographing many of the famous people and events of the mid-20th century. This portion of the book is based on a true story that Bohjalian heard about, though the photographer's name has been fictionalized. He incorporates real photos throughout the book and I think his goal was to increase awareness of and sympathy for the homeless. The other portion of the book is based on The Great Gatsby and this is where things begin to get weird. Laurel grew up on Long Island and swam at the country club that used to be Gatsby's house, we are told in the first few pages. So was the Great Gatsby real? (no) but that leads to the question about what is real in the book. That also provided some good fodder for a lively book group discussion. Laurel has a photography background, so she becomes a little obsessed with the project and with finding out who Bobbie Crocker really was and how he went from photog to the rich and famous to being homeless. She is especially intrigued when one of the photos in the collection captures the remote bike path where she was brutally attacked as a college student. What are the links between her past and Crocker's? The answers are surprising. The writing is not what I've come to admire from other works by Bohjalian, but that may be a construct too. Ultimately for me, the blurred lines between reality and unreality were more frustrating than enjoyable. ( )
  CarrieWuj | Oct 24, 2020 |
This one was painful to read, as the main character, Laurel, suffered a brutal attack while biking on a country road. She also is a swimmer, and the parallels to myself were just too close for comfort. The story revolves around photos left behind after the death of Bobbie, a formerly homeless man at the Burlington, Vermont shelter where Laurel works. Laurel (who is *also* into photography - like me) investigates the background of the photos.

This part of the story was based on reality - author Chris Bohjalian was inspired by and actually includes some of the photos taken by Bob "Soupy" Campbell, a man helped by the real Burlington shelter. The story of the real "Laurel" - Jessica Ferber - who investigated the real photos is far more interesting - she became rather obsessed with them too.

The book has a surprise ending, which I didn't see coming. It didn't help that the book include characters from The Great Gatsby, which I read so very long ago that I couldn't remember if they were real or not. "Double bind" is a term related to schizophrenia, and when the term was mentioned in the book (on page 215 out of 395 pages), it should have given me a clue. ( )
  riofriotex | Sep 15, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 162 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (2 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Chris Bohjalianprimary authorall editionscalculated
Denaker, SusanNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Original publication date
Important places
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Awards and honors
"Oh, I know who Pauline Kael is," he said. "I wasn't born homeless, you know."
Nick Hornby- A Long Way Down
For Rose Mary Muench and in memory of Frederick Meunch (1929-2004)
First words
Laurel Estabrook was nearly raped the fall of her sophomore year of college.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
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Wikipedia in English


Laurel Estabrook life changes drastically after being attacked. She goes from being outgoing to withdraw, her photography and work at a homeless shelter are now her life. Laurel meets Bobby, a mentally ill man, at the shelter with a box of photos he won't let anyone see. When he dies she discovers that he photographed celebrities. Laurel becomes obsessed and searches for the truth of his former life.

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Book description
After surviving an attack while biking, Vermont college student Laurel Estabrook decides to volunteer at a homeless shelter where she meets Bobbie Cocker, a mentally ill man who claims to have been an established photographer and whose life she becomes infatuated with.
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Average: (3.64)
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