Rating: 3 out of 5
I have to admit that I was surprised that my fellow book club babes felt so negatively toward Chris Bohjalian's The Guest Room. I was already a fan of the author after reading The Sandcastle Girls, his heartbreaking historical fiction novel about the Armenian Genocide. Honestly, there are so few Armenians left in existence, let alone Armenian writers, which compels me to appreciate the creative folks who share my heritage.
So even though some of the ladies at book club agreed with my 3-star rating, I was much more sympathetic about liking this story. However, since I recognize my own cultural bias, I wanted to share a plot summary written by my friend Kat, because it's absolutely hilarious. She actually re-enacted this description during our meetup this week, and it's safe to say that her sassy summaries will be a regular feature hereafter:
So basically you got a 40ish older brother (Mr. No Backbone) who throws a bachelor party for his immature womanizing 30ish baby brother at his home (*cough* damn fool *cough*), of which he shares with his devoted wife and 9-year-old daughter.
Said baby brother and even more hounddog groomsmen decide to hire strippers of which they pay extra to have sex (i.e. tag team) and guest what, oh, the strippers were sex slaves who took that very opportunity to kill their bodyguards/ captors right there in the house.
So now the strippers are on the run (literally 10 blocks down the street... They so smart 😐), the house is a crime scene, the older brother's marriage and family are falling apart (🙄), and there is a whole lot of media coverage & legal heat on all the groomsmen (ya damn skippy 😏).
I couldn't get jiggy with this because the characters were utterly stupid, and it was like as the story went on, the author kept dumbing everyone down for cheap thrills and sad attempts at creating suspense. Uh no! This gets 3 stars if I'm being nice, and a 2.5 if I'm keeping it real. Read at your own risk, but don't say I didn't warn you.
I have to agree with Kat that you question the judgment of the characters throughout the novel, correcting their decisions in your mind as a desperate attempt to prevent this bachelor-party-gone-wrong from getting even worse.
However, I pitied Richard, the relatively innocent bystander dealing with the aftermath of his brother's mistakes, and Alexandra, who never asked to be abducted from her family in Armenia and forced to live as a sex slave. Having the POVs shift between these two protagonists, as well as to Richard's wife and daughter, allows you to get in the minds of everyone affected and form your own conclusions about how you would feel and act in the same situation.
My only major complaint with The Guest Room was that it had too much feeling and not enough acting. Bohjalian is wonderful at writing inner turmoil, but this was not the sexy thriller my book club and I had been hoping for. As Kat concluded, read at your own risk, but as long as you know what kind of story you're getting yourself into, I thought that it was enjoyable.
My final words of wisdom if you plan on adding this to your to-read list: definitely get the print version! Unfortunately, the audiobook is terrible with accents, and Alexandra sounds like an awful stereotype of a foreign bimbo. The Guest Room is a story with a ton of potential that didn't quite deliver, and the poorly executed audiobook is another testament to that.