At first I wasn't blown away by Chris Bohjalian's The Double Bind but it was a novel that grew on me the further immersed in it I became. Though not the most intellectually challenging or complex novel I've recently read, it did keep me on the edge of my seat trying to put together the pieces of a puzzle further clouded by mental illness and a mystery made only more confused after the death of its most important proponent.
I don't want to explain too many of the details for fear of giving away the twists and surprises that Bohjalian throws his readers along the way. Instead, I'll give you the basics and encourage you to use your imagination from there. We are primarily dealing with Laurel Estabrook, a social worker at a homeless shelter called BEDS located near her alma mater in Vermont. As a victim rape and attempted murder in the woods of Underhill, Vermont, Laurel retains an emotional instability and the scar of what happened to her seven years ago.
When an especially congenial schizophrenic client at BEDS, Bobbie Crocker, passes away, the staff comes across an amazing collection of photographs, prints, and negatives in the apartment where Crocker was housed. The intrigue surrounding the photos is twofold - they are the work of an extraordinarily talented photographic artist and their subjects include people as famed as Muddy Waters, Bob Dylan, and Julie Andrews, to name just a few. An amateur photographer herself, Laurel takes on the project of developing the negatives and proving that Crocker was the man behind the lens. Her interest in the truth behind the pictures grows obsessive in nature, and the most important relationships in her life begin to crumble as Crocker's mystery takes first place.
Intertwined with the posthumous discovery of Crocker's supposed photographic portfolio are Tom and Daisy Buchanan, among other characters from The Great Gatsby, who may or may not actually be Crocker's parents. Bohjalian's novel draws some of its story line from this classic piece of American literature but is primarily grounded in the modern day. Not quite a psychological thriller nor completely a mystery novel, The Double Bind is nonetheless a page turner that is quietly intelligent and supremely rewarding upon reaching the final pages.
And even more interesting is the fact that, though Laurel's story is entirely fictional, a similar incident occurred in Vermont regarding a social services organization that found a remarkable collection of photographs among the possessions of one of their deceased clients. The actual photos are peppered among the different chapters of Bohjalian's novel and lend a certain plausibility to the story, in addition to even greater confusion of the lines between fiction and reality.