THE DOUBLE BIND

Chris Bohjalian

 When college sophomore Laurel Estabrook is attacked while riding her bicycle through Vermont’s back roads, her life is forever changed. Formerly outgoing, Laurel withdraws into her photography and begins to work at a homeless shelter. It is there she meets Bobbie Crocker, a man with a history of mental illness and a box of photographs that he won’t let anyone see. But when Bobbie suddenly dies, Laurel discovers that before he was homeless, Bobbie Crocker was a successful photographer who had worked with such legends as Chuck Berry, Robert Frost, and Eartha Kitt. As Laurel’s fascination with Bobbie’s former life grows,

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 When college sophomore Laurel Estabrook is attacked while riding her bicycle through Vermont’s back roads, her life is forever changed. Formerly outgoing, Laurel withdraws into her photography and begins to work at a homeless shelter. It is there she meets Bobbie Crocker, a man with a history of mental illness and a box of photographs that he won’t let anyone see. But when Bobbie suddenly dies, Laurel discovers that before he was homeless, Bobbie Crocker was a successful photographer who had worked with such legends as Chuck Berry, Robert Frost, and Eartha Kitt. As Laurel’s fascination with Bobbie’s former life grows, she becomes convinced that his photographs reveal a deeply hidden secret.

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  • Vintage Books
  • Paperback
  • February 2008
  • 448 Pages
  • 9781400031665

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About Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the critically acclaimed author of ten novels. He won the New England Book Award in 2002. His novel Midwives was a number one New York Times bestseller and an Oprah’s Book Club selection. His work has been translated into eighteen languages and published in twenty-one countries, and has twice been adapted into acclaimed movies (“Midwives” and “Past the Bleachers”). Chris graduated from Amherst College, and lives in Vermont with his wife and daughter.

Praise

“Bohjalian is a master of literary suspense…. His are the sorts of books people stay awake all night to finish.” —The Washington Post Book World

“Artfully crafted, terrifying…. Laurel is an unforgettable, vulnerable, complicated character.”
Los Angeles Times

Discussion Questions

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.” Compare Laurel’s analysis of photography to the writing style of the author, particularly in the prologue.

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?

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.

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?

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?”

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.” What else, in light of Laurel’s mental state, might the title of the book refer to?

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?

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.

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?

“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.” Were the photos the catalyst for Laurel’s downfall? Would Laurel have eventually suffered a similar psychological breakdown without the introduction of the photos?

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?

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.

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?

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?

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