I am so excited that my first “If You Read One Book This Month” column of 2016 is a book by one of my favorite authors, Chris Bohjalian.
The Guest Room tells the story of two very different people: Anahit, a young Armenian woman who was kidnapped at 15 by sex traffickers, and Richard Chapman, a legitimately happy family man who lives outside of Manhattan. Their paths cross when Richard hosts a bachelor party for his younger brother that turns deadly when the “management” for Anahit and the other young woman hired to entertain the guests end up murdered in his living room.
The story weaves backward from the murder of the men, until the reader is firmly ensconced in the messy world of sex trafficking. I’m not going to lie–this book was hard to read sometimes. There were moments I had to put it down and walk away. It terrified me as a parent, as a woman, and as a wife. There are things that go on in this world, right under our noses, that we don’t want to think about. This book doesn’t shy away from those evil realities. Instead, they are presented by the matter-of-fact voice of a girl that was told she was being taken to Moscow to become a professional ballerina and instead finds herself sold to men. It is the practical tone she describes what happens to her and the other girls she meets along the way that is far more chilling than any description of a bloody murder or even what goes on with the men who pay for her.
The other points of view we are privy to in the book are also thought provoking. There is Richard’s younger brother and his friends, who regularly use this “service” they have booked for his party even though they suspect the situation is not kosher; Richard’s wife, who questions her marriage and sexuality after what happens in her home; and the police who are both out to arrest the traffickers but resigned to the “realities” of that world.
I won’t spoil the ending, but as usual, it is unexpected and–despite the insanity that has happened up to that point–utterly real.
As always, it is Bohjalian’s writing that drew me into such a dark and spiraling topic. His books are never light and fluffy–he has written about transgender, nuclear explosions, and genocide. His writing is deep, his prose is addictive. It is his voice, and in turn the voice he gives his characters, that keeps me returning to his books and eagerly awaiting his new novels.