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The Double Bind: A Novel
by Chris Bohjalian

Published: 2007-02-13
Hardcover : 384 pages
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The Double Bind: A Novel

Editorial Review

No editorial review at this time.


Laurel Estabrook was nearly raped the fall of her sophomore year of college. Quite likely she was nearly murdered that autumn. This was no date-rape disaster with a handsome, entitled UVM frat boy after the two of them had spent too much time flirting beside the bulbous steel of a beer keg; this was one of those violent, sinister attacks involving masked men–yes, men, plural, and they actually were wearing wool ski masks that shielded all but their eyes and the snarling rifts of their mouths–that one presumes only happens to other women in distant states. To victims whose faces appear on the morning news programs, and whose devastated, forever-wrecked mothers are interviewed by strikingly beautiful anchorwomen. She was biking on a wooded dirt road twenty miles northeast of the college in a town with a name that was both ominous and oxy-moronic: Underhill. In all fairness, the girl did not find the name Underhill menacing before she was assaulted. But she also did not return there for any reason in the years after the attack. It was somewhere around six-thirty on a Sunday evening, and this was the third Sunday in a row that she had packed her well-traveled mountain bike into the back of her roommate Talia’s station wagon and driven to Underhill to ride for miles and miles along the logging roads that snaked through the nearby forest. At the time, it struck her as beautiful country: a fairy-tale wood more Lewis than Grimm, the maples not yet the color of claret. It was all new growth, a third-generation tangle of maple and oak and ash, the remnants of stone walls still visible in the understory not far from the paths. It was nothing like the Long Island suburbs where she had grown up, a world of expensive homes with manicured lawns only blocks from a long neon-lit swath of fast-food restaurants, foreign car dealers, and weight-loss clinics in strip malls. ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

1. Chris Bohjalian begins the novel with a very matter-of-fact description of a brutal attack. Later in the novel, he writes about Laurel, “she preferred black and white [photography] because she thought it offered both greater clarity and deeper insight into her subjects. In her opinion, you understood a person better in black and white” (page 33). Compare Laurel’s analysis of photography to the writing style of the author, particularly in the prologue.

2. In a feat of narrative turnaround, The Double Bind ends with a shocking revelation. Did you find yourself reviewing the novel or rereading it to experience it anew? Did you find the treatment of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s characters to be more or less significant in light of the revelation about Laurel’s sanity?

3. Bohjalian introduces the world of The Great Gatsby seamlessly into his characters’ lives, as if it were real. As readers, we come to understand that all of it was a figment of Laurel’s addled mind. Nevertheless, Fitzgerald’s themes resonate deeply within Bohjalian’s narrative: the death of the American Dream, repeating the past, and self-reinvention, to name a few. Discuss how each author (Fitzgerald and Bohjalian) explores these themes, and examine any others that stood out for you.

4. Discuss Bohjalian’s treatment of homelessness, both as a reality and as an abstraction or social issue. Did The Double Bind change your thoughts and views on the plight of the homeless in America? If so, how?

5. Why did Laurel, as the author writes, allow Talia to “remain a part of her life when she consciously exiled herself from the rest of the herd” (page 125)?

6. We learn from Laurel that the phrase “Double Bind” is a psychiatric term for a “particular brand of bad parenting [that] could inadvertently spawn schizophrenia” (page 200). What else, in light of Laurel’s mental state, might the title of the book refer to?

7. Is Laurel’s imagined life for Bobbie–and all his psychiatric problems–a way for her to express her own psychotic break? Is the Bobbie Crocker that the reader gets to know really a facet of Laurel’s personality?

8. Through most of the book the reader believes, along with Laurel, that she escaped certain rape–and that her ability to hold on to her bike saved her. But after the attack, she gives up biking. Discuss the play between the conscious and subconscious mind–a delicate balance that must have underlined all of Laurel’s actions–in this abandonment of the very thing she’d convinced herself was her savior.

9. In what ways is Dan Corbett’s tattoo of the devil as a skull with horns reminiscent of the billboard of the pair of eyes that overlooks the Valley of Ashes in The Great Gatsby? Is there other imagery in the novel that echoes Fitzgerald’s tropes?

10. “For the first time, [Katherine] began to wonder if she’d made a serious mistake when she’d given Laurel that box of old photos” (page 142). Were the photos the catalyst for Laurel’s downfall? Would Laurel have eventually suffered a similar psychological breakdown without the introduction of the photos?

11. Were you surprised to discover that David’s children were figments of Laurel’s imagination? In hindsight, were there clues in Marissa and Cindy’s actions that revealed their origin in Laurel’s mind?

12. Was Bobbie Crocker really the father of Laurel’s attacker, Dan Corbett? Is it possible that the elderly Crocker really did see her attack? If so, would he have known who Laurel was when he arrived at BEDS? Discuss the implications of this possibility.

13. How was Laurel able to block out what really happened to her when she carried real physical scars of the mutilation to remind her of it? Were there clues in the narrative that part of her did know what happened all along?

14. Laurel suffered a horrendous attack and managed to go on to do great work for the most neglected members of society. Does her breakdown and hospitalization have a negating effect on the seemingly heroic work that came before it? Why or why not?

15. In the end, were Bobbie Crocker and his photographs real or just a figment of Laurel’s traumatized mind?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

No notes at this time.

Book Club Recommendations

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
by Christine N. (see profile) 05/29/18

by Rebecca D. (see profile) 01/12/18

  "The Double Bind"by Diana D. (see profile) 06/25/13

  "The fantasy/reality of The Double Bind"by Denise B. (see profile) 06/25/13

This book created a fantasy/reality world that really caught up the reader in its deceits, although I believe that the author gave hints at the underlying falsehoods.

  "The Double Bind"by Barbara P. (see profile) 11/29/11

Our club was about equally divided between finding the book a real page turner and being able to put it down. The surprise ending helped make sense out of most of the events, but we had one of our best... (read more)

  "The Double Bind"by Terri W. (see profile) 05/12/11

Quite a lively book club discussion after reading the book. Parts of it were confusing and slow. The ending was brilliant.

  "The Double Bind"by Pam F. (see profile) 11/20/09

  "Double Bind"by Susan B. (see profile) 11/19/09

  "The Double Bind"by Gail B. (see profile) 06/22/09

This book was rated great by all book club members. I couldn't put it down. A complete surprise ending! It is amazing to me how the different members interpreted different areas of the book to get to... (read more)

  "Laurel Easterbrook is a young social worker who becomes obsessed with the photographs left behind by a deceased client."by Ann P. (see profile) 04/08/09

I really felt duped by the author. One quote a member brought to our discussion was "a literary game not played by fair rules". It made for good discussion although only three or four of the ten of us... (read more)

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