Monday, July 12, 2010

The Double Bind

The Double BindThe Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The first time I read “The Great Gatsby” I got lost in the prolific verbiage and in the tragedy of Gatsby’s failed dream. Fitzgerald showed the price we pay for dreaming and the seeming impossibility of letting go of dreams even when we know they cannot be reached. I have read “The Great Gatsby” at least a dozen times since my first, and each time, the price of dreaming seems even greater. The characters’ broken lives that once seemed far removed are much more reminiscent of reality, and each time I understand a bit more why Gatsby refuses to let his dream die.
Chris Bohjalian’s “The Double Bind” is also a story about dreaming though the dreaming is less entrenched in reaching for the unreachable and more focused on the dreaming that is associated with mental illness. The story revolves around Laurel Estabrook, a beautiful woman in her 20s whose life has not been the same since being brutally attacked while riding her bike in Vermont. Laurel retreats into her love of photography and her work at a homeless shelter as a way to hide from further loss and disappointment. Through Laurel’s interest in one of the men staying at the shelter, the reader is able to travel between Fitzgerald’s Roaring Twenties and modern day New England. Bohjalian’s seamless writing guides the reader through a world where Daisy’s crime really happened, where Gatsby really did die for love, and Pammy grew up trying to make sense of it all.

I love “The Double Bind” because I love “The Great Gatsby.” You cannot read and fully appreciate “The Double Bind” without at least a cursory knowledge of Fitzgerald’s most famous work. Truth be told, “The Double Bind” drags a bit in the middle, but the twist at the end somehow makes up for it. Gatsby was a man so ensconced in his dream that he failed to see that the person he had dreamed about no longer existed. Laurel’s own obsessions, which stem from nightmarish reality rather than beautiful dreams, are equally haunting and remarkable to follow. The discussion of mental illness is entwined with Bohjalian’s characteristic attention to detail. The intricacies of which fed my personal interest of ascertaining what mental stability and individual perception have to do with reliable story telling, both in fictional stories and real life (the lines of which often feel blurred).

If Goodreads allowed half stars, “The Double Bind” would be a 4.5. This is a must-read for Gatsby lovers. If you haven’t ever read Gatsby, forget “The Double Bind” and go get “The Great Gatsby.” It has the potential to alter forever your views of American literature and more significantly, American dreaming.

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