Modern Lit: Secrets of Eden, by Chris Bojalian

Secrets of EdenHaverill’s no Eden 

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A small church in rural Vermont. A battered woman, her abusive husband, and their teenage daughter. A nationally known author of books about angels on earth. The town of Haverill is shattered when a murder/suicide occurs. The pastor’s faith is severely shaken, and he takes a leave of absence. In swoops that author, whose own father killed her mother years before, hoping she can bring some spiritual sustenance to the bereaved.

Secrets of Eden, part murder mystery and part character study, is narrated in rotating segments, in which the perspectives of the daughter, the minister, the writer, and the investigating detective are revealed. For the most part, this device works well; the exception is the account by the writer, the self-proclaimed Angel Advocate, which is airy-faerie enough to be cloying, despite understanding that her beliefs are so evidently rooted in her horrific childhood. The minister character seems strangely remote and detached, in the emotional sense, a trait that is bothersome until the ending reveals why. The strongest of the narratives comes from Katie, the grieving daughter, as much as victim of trauma as her now dead mother; while she does not describe her family life until well into the novel, when she opens up she does so with powerful vividness.

This is a book about relationships, most of them destructively defective. Readers looking for action, for police procedures and investigative detail, will be disappointed, but the story is ultimately satisfactory in the psychological sense. Come to think of it, what might take place after Secrets of Eden closes could provide material for yet another novel. Here’s hoping it has a better title.


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