Review: ‘The Guest Room’

A classic bachelor’s party gone wrong is the starting point for Chris Bohjalian’s new novel The Guest Room. When his irresponsible younger brother is about to be married, successful investment banker Richard Chapman agrees to host a bachelor party for him, assuming that if the event occurs in his fashionable Westchester home then some of the excesses that accompany this traditional bacchanalian event might be avoided. Heavy drinking among the guests is to be expected, and strippers to provide entertainment for them is par for the course. But he does not envision two murders, overt sexual activity, and his own intimate encounter with one of the entertainers in the guest room of his home.

While the sensational aspects of the bachelor party may appeal to readers’ prurient curiosity, the tension of the narrative is fueled by the aftershocks of the party gone wrong. Chapman had been a happily married man with a nine-year-old daughter who is the center of his life. That marriage is seriously threatened when his wife not only sees the damage to her home, but learns more details about her husband’s conduct that evening. In addition, his career is jeopardized when his firm becomes aware of the debacle. And then he is threatened with blackmail.

But Chapman is an empathetic character because at heart he is a good person who deeply regrets the bad choices that he has made not only because of their impact on the people he loves and his career that he enjoys, but also because of his part in the victimization of the girls brought to the party.

Bohjalian alternates chapters in the novel between omniscient and first person points of view; one offers the perspective of Chapman and those directly involved or affected by the bachelor party, and the second presents the back story and thoughts of one of the two girls who were the evening’s entertainment. The reader learns that the stripper was not a coed making a few bucks on the side as a stripper to help pay her tuition, but rather a tragic victim of international sex trafficking.

The author has not only written a page-turner, but at the same time raises readers’ awareness of an unspeakable crime which often includes underage children as victims. Because of the subject matter of the book, some may find passages unsettling.

This reader questioned the resolution of the narrative, as it recalled a tongue-in-cheek discourse written on the art of fiction by Mark Twain. He maintained that the best solution to the problem caused by painting a character into a corner was simply to have him fall into an open well. Bohjalian seems to have followed this advice, at least figuratively speaking.

Nonetheless, The Guest Room is a good read for winter, an effective distraction from snow and cold, and for a time, rather than fretting over the question of whether spring will ever arrive, you can divert yourself by sorting out the good guys from the bad, and then rooting for the triumph of justice over evil.


The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian / 314 pages, Doubleday, 2016.

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