Skip to main content

The Guest Room


The Guest Room

Chris Bohjalian is no stranger to writing about pressing social topics in his fiction. From his breakout novel, MIDWIVES, to his 2014 effort, CLOSE YOUR EYES, HOLD HANDS, Bohjalian has addressed issues ranging from home birth to homelessness. His latest book, THE GUEST ROOM, takes on what may be his most provocative issue yet --- human trafficking --- and brings it to life by setting his shocking story in a familiar suburban landscape.

Richard Chapman agrees to host a bachelor party for his younger brother, Philip, somewhat grudgingly. Philip is kind of a narcissistic jerk, but Richard is the best man, and his large home in Westchester offers plenty of room for revelry. Richard assumes, rightly, that Philip’s buddies will have ordered a stripper (or two) for the event; he also assumes, wrongly, that holding the party in his family’s suburban home will keep the sexual shenanigans to a minimum. Before the evening is through, two men will be dead, the strippers (actually Eastern European sex slaves) will be on the run, and Richard’s life will be in shambles.

"Bohjalian...structures his novel somewhat like a thriller, building the suspense to an explosive final scene."

The Chapmans’ beautiful home is now a crime scene, and Richard is witness to a murder. But that’s just the beginning. He also has to figure out how to navigate his domestic life, given his wife’s understandable loss of trust and his nine-year-old daughter’s many fears and questions. And then there’s the fact that the investment bank where Richard works has put him on indefinite administrative leave, and one of the other partygoers is threatening to blackmail him with some pretty incriminating video that may further erode his personal and professional relationships. All of a sudden, the decision to host a night of harmless boyish fun seems anything but harmless.

Richard’s story in the aftermath of the party is told alternately with the story of Alexandra, the young woman with whom he shared an emotionally intimate moment at the party and whose history of betrayal and sexual violence leading up to the party forms the emotional crux of the novel. Alexandra, who is Armenian and barely of legal age, exhibits a blend of innocence and world-weariness that makes it easy to see why Richard feels drawn to help her. Bohjalian also structures his novel somewhat like a thriller, building the suspense to an explosive final scene.

At times, portions of THE GUEST ROOM, especially those outlining Alexandra’s descent into the sordid world of human trafficking and sex slavery, can read as if the author is merely offering details from some of the nonfiction accounts he cites in his afterword. He does, however, enrich the emotional impact by delving into Alexandra’s Armenian heritage and bringing the graphic details of her life to his readers where they live --- much as the events of the novel do for Richard and his family. For many readers, this may be their first introduction to these topics. Fortunately, Bohjalian offers several suggestions for further reading and advocacy that may prompt readers to continue learning and helping beyond the pages of his book.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on January 5, 2016

The Guest Room
by Chris Bohjalian

  • Publication Date: October 25, 2016
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday
  • ISBN-10: 0804170983
  • ISBN-13: 9780804170987