The Guest Room, Chris Bohjalian, author; Mozhan Marno, Grace Experience, narrators

I could not stop listening to this book once I began. The story is interesting because of the subject matter; it is about the sex slave industry and the often reckless behavior of men which enables such an industry to exist.
This novel is basically two stories that merge into one. The first begins in Armenia where a young girl, recently orphaned, is abducted, and taken to Moscow where she believes she will be trained as a professional dancer, but is instead, she is a prisoner, trained to be a courtesan against her will. Threatened with punishment for herself and/or her remaining family members, she complies. As a teenager or younger, she doesn’t have the judgment, tools or ability to fight back. She is a captive with no control over her life, and she grows totally dependent upon her captors for her survival, some sex slaves often exhibiting signs of the Stockholm Syndrome.
The second story takes place in America, in NYC. Richard is a nice enough guy who accidentally gets caught up in this sex slave industry when he good naturedly agrees to host his brother’s bachelor party at his home. Although he is aware of the fact that his brother is often immature and has less than stellar friends, he is happy about his coming marriage, and as best man, he wants to do this for him. He has no idea what a nightmare that decision will spawn.
Unbeknownst to Richard, his brother Philip’s best friend, Spencer, makes arrangements to have strippers at the party who are far more than simple strippers, and the evening’s entertainment brings tragedy to his home. When the girls arrive with their “bodyguards”, the entertainment begins. Excessive drinking impairs the judgment of many of the guests. The party quickly descends into debauchery as the females are intended also to be special gifts for both Richard and his brother to enjoy. A series of events take place which are catastrophic. Richard’s life is turned upside down. He is no longer trusted by his wife, his job is in jeopardy and he is placed on leave by his firm. The brutal double murder that occurred that night has placed the spotlight upon him.
Richard’s wife’s reaction seems a bit shallow, at first. Although she believes her husband has sinned, which is unbelievably upsetting, in her immediate reaction she gives little thought to what he has experienced while witnessing the murders which have scarred their home, not only with the memory, but with the blood of the victims. She questions his protestations of innocence. She thinks only about her own shame and humiliation and gives little thought to the victims. When Richard confesses partially to the sins of the evening, the evidence against him is incriminating, and she suddenly becomes insecure about her own self-image and sexuality since she believes he has strayed from her. Yes, her husband’s behavior was suspect, and she rejected him, but was she possibly too self-righteous? It was actually, Spencer, his brother’s friend who was responsible for the entire debacle. This fact is not stressed by the author, rather the enabling of the event becomes the problem, I believe, in order for the author to shine a light on the wickedness of the sex slave industry.
The double murder that occurred in their home during what the papers were calling an orgy, possibly with underage sex slaves, placed the event on the front page of the news and the tongues of all of the people who know them, even the friends of their fourth grader, Melissa. The affect on each of them was different. Their daughter was confused and afraid, alternately vacillating between sympathy and disgust for her father, depending on her mother’s mood. His wife, Kristin, who was a teacher, worried about how the teachers and students and neighbors would react. Her daughter attended the same school in which she taught, and at first, she didn’t consider the effect of the tragedy upon her, but just upon herself. She kind of wallowed in self-pity. Richard, felt not only the humiliation and rejection, but also shame and fear about what occurred. He seemed genuine, while the other characters behavior seemed a bit contrived. He was complicit because it was in his home, and he did allow himself to go briefly astray, but he had no part in the organization of the entertainment, and he was shocked by the way the tragedy leached into all avenues of his life and by the caliber of Philip’s friend Spencer; his friends distanced themselves, his wife mistrusted him, his job was in jeopardy, and his daughter seemed to no longer love him unconditionally.
One other character seemed totally genuine. Alexandra (not her real name) was one of the so-called strippers. Her back story, background and experiences seemed plausible and appalling. Her telling of her story was captivating and if even a fraction of her story was based on reality, it was a nightmare scenario.
I found some of the reactions of observers to be over the top and of the police and justice system to be excessive with unnecessary innuendo and decisions. The behavior of friends and family members was disappointing. It seemed no one rallied around Richard, who was immediately judged and cast as the bad guy, even though he seemed, overall, to be the most innocent of the unintended victims.
The two themes that ran concurrently in the novel, sex slavery and infidelity are important subjects that needed to be explored more fully for the public. Did the end result seem justified? At one point in the book, the question is asked: “Who is worse, the seller or buyer of young girls?” That is a point worth considering further in discussion. Aren’t the sellers really the enablers of such a heinous industry?
Both narrators did a great job with both Richard’s and Alexandra’s dialogue perfectly expressed, accented and presented, putting the reader right in the middle of the action with all of the emotion, confusion and fear they experienced.

About omasvoice

Who am I? I am you. I am everyone out there who loves to read and discuss and voice an opinion!
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, Books for Adults, Fiction. Bookmark the permalink.

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