Keeping the faith despite abuse

In Chris Bohjalian’s newest novel, Secrets of Eden, the author of 12 other thriller books adds to his repertoire with a book about hidden secrets and acts of faith.

In Chris Bohjalian’s newest novel, Secrets of Eden, the author of 12 other thriller books adds to his repertoire with a book about hidden secrets and acts of faith.

After being baptized in a pond—inspired by an actual pond not far from Bohjalian’s house in Vermont—Alice Hayward is killed by her husband. Soon we find out there’s more to the story than an angry lover, and Reverend Stephen Drew, the person who baptizes Alice, knows more than we think.

The book, narrated from the perspectives of several characters, shows readers the dimensions of complex characters and their interactions. For instance, Heather Laurent is an author of inspirational books who claims the ability to see angels.

“Heather Laurent is the opposite of Stephen Drew,” Bohjalian said. “She was a delightful character to hang around with, and I see her faith as a counterfoil to Stephen’s cynicism.”

Bohjalian explained that when he’s writing, he tends to let characters lead him through the story. The dynamic between Drew, who suffers from a “profound crisis” after Alice Hayward’s death, and Laurent, who has the personality “of a kindergartener” makes for engaging interactions between the two characters.

Bohjalian will tell you that he does find inspiration from people that he meets and interacts with in his life. From doing research for his work, Bohjalian met Lauren Bowerman, assistant attorney general of Vermont.

“The more I chatted with her, the more I began to like her sense of humor, her bluntness and her offhand remarks of the human condition,” Bohjalian said, and so came the inspiration for the character Catherine Benincasa.

The idea for Secrets of Eden began in 1997, when Bohjalian was researching for another novel he was writing. When meeting with a victim’s right advocate, Bohjalian was shown something that haunted him for years to come.

“I was in Burlington, Vermont, and she [the victims-rights advocate] tossed in between us two images of head indentations into sheet rock,” Bohjalian said. “They were deeply disturbing, and I just couldn’t get them out of my head.”

After the release of his novel Double Bind, a book about violence and sexual violence, Bohjalian received a massive response from women all around the country asking how he had heard their story.

Bohjalian had written a fictional story about an attack on Laurel Esterbrook in Double Bind, which he found to be a story that was even more common than he realized.

“It comes down to [the fact that] violence and domestic violence is an epidemic in this country,” Bohjalian said.

When Bohjalian started writing Secrets of Eden, he knew he wanted to incorporate what he had learned about domestic violence, and to give those women another voice.

“I never stopped thinking about those Polaroid images, and eventually they found their way into a novel,” Bohjalian said.

Bohjalian cites a few examples of domestic abuse in the world around us.

“Eleven of the 15 homicides in Vermont last year began with domestic abuse,” Bohjalian said. “Chris Brown assaults Rihanna, pleads guilty. His song is featured on the show The Office for a significant scene with Pam and Jim. After Charlie Sheen allegedly beats up his girlfriend, his show Two and a Half Men is still running.”

Although Secrets of Eden is fictional, Bohjalian asks us to think about these issues and their relevance today. His adaption of these characters, which he familiarizes for us, gives us a glimpse into a fascinating story of secrets and human betrayal, which we sometimes see all around us.