Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Guest Room

Title:  The Guest Room
Author:  Chris Bohjalian
Publication Information:  Doubleday. 2016. 336 pages.
ISBN:  0385538898 / 978-0385538893

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through Edelweiss free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Richard Chapman presumed there would be a stripper at his brother Philip's bachelor party."

Favorite Quote:  "Options. Such a word. Such an idea. Try having options when you have never had options before. Very difficult."

You know a book is a gripping story when you read the last words, still turn the page to make sure there's no more, and then remain wondering, "What happens to these characters next? Are they okay? Will they be okay?"

That is my reaction to The Guest Room, which takes on the very important, very disturbing issue of sex trafficking -  young girls kidnapped or sold into slavery and then marketed as objects. The sadness is the necessity of this book and other fiction and nonfiction books on this issue:
Chris Bohjalian brings the story of this terror to Russia and to the United States.  He looks at the situations from many different facets - a young girl caught in the system, a "customer" of the system, and a family with a daughter of their own.

It all stars with a bachelor party gone very very wrong. Richard and Kristin have been married over a decade and are parents to Melissa. Richard hosts a bachelor party for his younger brother Philip. Philip's friend Spencer is in charge of the "entertainment" which turns out to be two young women and their guards.

Philip and his friends are apparently repeat customers of this trade and willing participants. Richard knows but does not object or stop it because "he didn't want to be a prig." Kristin knows but does not put a stop to it; she takes her daughter and plans to be away for the evening. By not objecting, this clean cut suburban couple with a daughter of their own become participants to the prostitution and slavery of young women.

At this bachelor party, things go wrong. The book deals with the fallout from this disaster. The two guards end up dead. The two girls end up on the run. Richard finds his family and his career in shambles. He finds himself at risk for legal implications. He finds himself seeing - truly seeing - the young woman that he met as the "entertainment." Kristin and Melissa are left devastated by Richard's choices. Kristin attempts to recover from this betrayal, protect her own daughter, and determine if her marriage will survive. Melissa finds the very foundations of her world shaken.

We see Richard's perspective and Kristin's. The book also shows the world through Alexandra's eyes. She is one of the two young women. Alexandra's story is the only one that reaches into the path. It traces the trajectory of how an innocent child is turned into a sex slave on the run for her life. She is on the run both from her captors and from the authorities.  Who, or where, can she possibly turn for help?

The parallels between Alexandra and Melissa are striking. The repeated references to the collection of Barbie dolls they both at one time played with touch on the innocence of childhood. They are both dancers and speak of dance studios and ballerina dreams. The implication is clear - the young women caught in this system are the victims. The subtle similarities create that message more strongly than any direct statement. Even Richard sees it. For any "customer" of the trade, the message is clear. These young girls could be your daughter, your sister, your wife - someone you love. Without a spoiler, I will say that the book and the end, though a bit contrived, make sense in light of this message.

Human trafficking and the loss of innocent lives is a global concern. Chris Bohjalian brings this important conversation to light once again in this heartbreaking book.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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