I'm taking a writing class right now, and for our assignments we are to write 1-2 page essays. I think that to be a better writer one needs to read, and since I never read essays I thought this might be a good time to start. I found a book by Chris Bohjalian called Idyll Banter, a collection of columns he wrote for the Burlington Free Press (and a few for the Boston Globe) about life in the small town in Vermont where he lives. They are lovely little snippets, including a tribute to the public library, humorous anecdotes about not being able to find his septic tank, and a thoughtful piece about the meaning and celebration of Memorial Day. It was very relaxing reading and sort of made me want to move to a cute little town where everyone knows everyone else, until I remembered that I grew up in such a town and left for a reason.
If you haven't read Bohjalian's latest novel, The Double Bind, do so now. I read it a couple of months ago and I'm still thinking about it. Throughout the book you know something is not quite right, you get a distinct feeling there is something you should know that you don't, and I won't ruin the ending but will just tell you that it is very satisfying. Also, when I finished, I immediately wanted to turn back to the beginning and start again.
Chris Bohjalian's writing is sometimes compared to Jodi Picoult's but I'm not sure if that's fair. I've only read one of Picoult's books, but although I liked it I thought the ending was rather cheap and contrived, like she was trying to shock me which resulted in an unreal quality to the story. Chris Bohjalian would not do that to me, I think. He just tells his story as though it is something that already exists and he is just sharing it with us.
I've read most of his novels, but still haven't read Before You Know Kindness. For some mysterious reason I own a copy of the audiobook, but I've put off listening to it. The story begins with a hunter accidentally shooting a man who happens to be an animal rights activist, and the book revolves around issues of hunters and animal rights and things that tend to make me angry. But after reading an essay in Idyll Banter in which he describes himself as a "PETA-dues-paying vegetarian weenie" I think I can handle this book. Bohjalian always presents issues as the complicated multi-faceted things they are, and I knew that, but still his self-description makes me feel a bit better.
According to his website he is finishing up his next book. I can't wait!