Enter Bohjalian's latest release, The Guest Room. I think this release shocked me a little more than usual. Perhaps because it seems so real, like it could have been ripped from the headlines. I don't know if I can say Vermonters are a little more sheltered, but a few weeks ago, there was breaking news of a massage parlor about 10 miles from me being raided for sex trafficking. I know it exists, but this hit a little closer to home because of the distance. The Guest Room definitely brought that story to mind. We have a tendency to think of the slime who run these operations, but what of the girls?
Richard Chapman is being the good big brother and hosting his younger, albeit more wild, brother's bachelor party in his home. He knows there will be strippers involved, but he never imagines circumstances will grow wildly out of control when one of the strippers stabs her guard to death in front of them. There's a gun shot, the second guard is also dead, the strippers flee, and Richard is left with his life in tatters. His job's on the line, his marriage is on the line, and the gossip about what went on in his home could tear his family apart.
Meanwhile, one of the strippers, Alexandra, has her own story to tell, but she's trapped. The police want to arrest her, some Russians want to destroy her, and staying alive seems impossible in this country that's completely unfamiliar to her.
Alexandra makes this novel. From the start, I wanted to take her under my wing. Her life is painstakingly developed by Bohjalian and it's impossible not to root for her. Richard Chapman makes mistakes, sure, but he's just as likable and stuck in an impossible situation. There were times I was thinking he'd be so much better packing up his family, leaving everything behind, and starting fresh somewhere exotic where his family wouldn't be the center of attention. Now there is another character involved in a minor way that had me wanting to strangle him, but sadly, I can see some acting like that. I won't go into details, but I did appreciate how Bohjalian handled him. Being so attached to the characters is what made this book hard to put down.