First published in 2016
My rating: 3.5 out of 5
Image from Goodreads
The Short Of It:
This was a fast-paced dual narrative about a bachelor party gone wrong and an Armenian teenager kidnapped into sex slavery. It was a decent read but nothing mind-blowing.
The Long Of It:
Richard has led a pretty straight-and-narrow life. He's got a great job at an investment bank, he loves his beautiful wife and 9-year-old daughter, he lives in a big house in a New York City suburb. But his content and quiet existence is blown to shreds because of one simple decision -- agreeing to host his little brother Phillip's bachelor party at his home.
Booked by one of Phillip's buddies, two mega-hot young things show up -- along with two hulking body guards -- to strip, and more, at the bachelor party. Things are going ok, despite the worries in the back of Richard's mind about the unspeakable stains on his family's sofa, and that sorta-valuable painting, and that glass vase in danger of toppling, until one of the strippers goes crazy and knifes a body guards to death. The other body guard is dispatched with a bullet and the two girls vanish before the stunned, inebriated party-goers can even react. Two men have been brutally, bloodily murdered in Richard's living room by naked women at a sex-fueled bachelor party; thus begins the saga that will alter Richard and his family's lives forever.
Meanwhile, we meet Alexandra, one of the two strippers at the party -- and in fact not a stripper at all, but a sex slave abducted from Armenia by a trusted family friend and forced to service wealthy clients in Russia, then eventually the U.S. Interspersed with the narrative of the increasingly nightmarish reality facing Richard, we learn the terrible story of how Alexandra, who once hoped to become a famous ballerina, came to be held captive for years, forced to cater to the sexual whims of man after man after man. We also find out what led to the bold escape attempt at the bachelor party and what happened to Alexandra and her friend and fellow captive, Sonja, afterwards.
The story was an easy read -- though the subject matter was a bit tough at times -- and I tore through it. But in the end I didn't totally love it, partly because I didn't feel all that connected to the characters or invested in their stories, which is surprising because Alexandra's character should stir up loads of compassion and sympathy. (I think part of the problem here was Bohjalian's use of dropped articles -- "I went to party" instead of "I went to the party" -- to convey an Eastern European accent, but it was a technique used inconsistently and the whole thing just threw me off a little.)
Even though I wasn't singing from the rooftops about my first Bohjalian book, I'm glad I finally got around to giving the author a try, and I wouldn't be opposed to reading more of his work. And I'm glad I read "The Guest Room" because I learned a few things about sex slavery and sex trafficking, topics I'm not particularly well-versed in but probably should be.