The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian
Published by Doubleday ISBN 97803855538893
Hardcover, $25.95, 336 pages
What I like about a new Chris Bohjalian book is that you know it's always going to be an intriguing story that tackles an important issue. He's dealt with such topics as mental illness (The Double Bind), domestic abuse (Secrets of Eden), the Armenian genocide (The Sandcastle Girls) and now the global sex slave trade in his gripping novel The Guest Room.
Kristine takes her eight-year-old daughter to visit her mother overnight in New York City while her husband Richard hosts a bachelor party for his n'er-do-well brother in their suburban home. She's not crazy about her immature brother-in-law Phillip and his friends, but Richard doesn't have many friends or go out much, so she hopes this will be a fun night for him.
Phillip's best friend Spencer arranges for two strippers to come to the house, but when they arrive, it's clear that these are the not the kind of women Richard envisioned. The two young women are more than strippers, they are prostitutes.
Things get way out of hand, and Richard ends up in the guest room with one of the young women, Alexandra, about to make a very bad mistake. It turns out that these two women were kidnapped and forced into sex slavery and when the women kill their bodyguards/captors in his house, Richard's life turns upside down.
He has to tell his wife, who has to tell their young daughter. The lurid story is all over the news, Richard is forced to take a leave of absence from his lucrative job and they can't go back into their house as it is a crime scene. It is a nightmare.
The story is also told from Alexandra's viewpoint. After losing her father, she is tricked into leaving her mother, believing she is going to study dance in Russia. The man who was her benefactor became her nightmare. At the age of fourteen she was forced into prostitution. She was beaten and raped repeatedly until she realized there was no way out.
Bohjalian describes in graphic detail the brutality these young women are subjected to. It is horrifying to read on the page, I can't imagine the actual reality of it. For five long years Alex is locked away, forced to service men.
At the age of nineteen, she and three other young women are sent to New York where they can make more money for the Russian mobsters. One of them is killed by their captors, and then they go to the party at Richard's, where Alexandra's friend decides to change her fate.
The story is riveting, and The Guest Room is definitely a page-turning nail-biter. As Alexandra is on the run, trying to avoid the Russian mobsters and police looking for her, and Richard tries to put his life back together, their stories collide.
The ending is shocking and will send you for a loop. The Guest Room is just heartbreaking, and the fact that this goes on right here is mind-numbing. I highly recommend The Guest Room, it combines a sad story with a thriller's pace and you'll race through it. And if your husband asks to host a bachelor party in your home, just say no.
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