When I read my first book by Chris Bohjalian, I fell in love with his almost lyrical prose style. I had a bout of complete writer's envy, but told myself it was also the subject matter he wrote about in Skeletons at the Feast that gave his work the weight and beauty.
That novel jumps between characters in dire straights at the tail end of World War II in the European countryside. Not quite lost souls, but struggling souls trying to navigate between Nazi soldiers and the onslaught of Russian soldiers, navigating between being German and being Jewish and being trapped behind enemy lines... sweeping, sad and beautifully rendered.
My mother in law recently cleared out her reading shelves, giving me a box which contained (among other things) all the rest of Chris Bohjalian's books (except for Skeletons at the Feast) I thought I'd try one of his earlier works to see if his magic was still on the page.
Bohjalian published Water Witches in 1997. It's a much smaller scope of a book, set in upstate Vermont near Montpelier with a fictional ski resort at the center of the controversy. The main protagonist is a lawyer who works for big business, as it is in Vermont. Mainly the ski industry. His sister-in-law is the best dowser in the state, a water witch. While his wife has the abilities to some extent, it's his young daughter who has inherited the family gift. The lawyer's complicated relationship navigates between Nature and the Ski Industry, and his conflict occurs when he realizes he has to finally and publicly choose sides.
The setting and controversy are not nearly as sweeping in scope, but Bohjalian renders them beautifully and honestly. My parents owned a ski lodge for 14 years in Killington, Vermont and I spent a lot of time there in my late teens and twenties, working for them and with others who still call Vermont their home (including both my sisters.) I understand the industry and it's complicated ties with the land and people of Vermont. Bohjalian captures a lot of it spot on.
I'm not going to give anything else away, as I do recommend this book. It's short (327 pages) and not a quick read because of the poetic style. You want to slow down and read the descriptive passages, and enjoy his turn of phrase in various beautiful small scenes, such as when the protagonist watches his daughter dance as a butterfly among the fireflies in the nighttime garden.
The book is set in summertime, but it's not a beach book. It's a slower, more literary read for fall. Hey, the kids are doing it in school - my son had to read Of Mice and Men (I loved that book, too.) My book club is reading Little Bee (although I'm not going to make it to that meeting, and that book still languishes on my TBR pile.) My friend's book club is reading To Kill a Mockingbird (another great book I need to reread soon.) So get out there and read something you have to sink teeth into.
What are you reading?