Homelessness, mental illness, hunger, unreliable narrators, The Great Gatsby, and author cheating permeated our discussion of The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian. After a friendly session of chatting, we turned low-key and thoughtful. We were divided about the book, but in agreement about the seriousness of its subject.
Our first responder spoke for his wife, who found reading The Double Bind tedious. Several members agreed. Others of us found it unengaging, until the second half, when we became curious about its resolution. One noted that the novel lacked the humor, passion, or warmth that have driven other selections. Most were completely surprised by the twist at the end and one member said she re-read the last chapter, thinking that she must have fallen asleep and missed something! One member actually felt punched; another was angered, feeling that the author had not given enough clues, writing as if from the perspective of real characters who turned out to be entirely imagined.
Yet still, we know that the imagined is completely real to the person with mental illness, which is how the story felt to us as well. One member shared that he had spent some time “hoboing” and that resources are available; yet how do you solve the problem of homelessness, especially when mental illness makes a person unable to fit into the rules and regulations of communal life? We discussed the need for asylums and the abuse that abolished them. Shelters, food pantries, military veterans, PTSD: people walk, even in our Las Vegas heat, miles and miles. One member mentioned his high regard for the Las Vegas Rescue Mission as we discussed how hard it is to make a difference in the midst of so much need and so much fraud.
We all agreed that the imagined Great Gatsby connection was fascinating and well done. One of us had read The Great Gatsby just before The Double Bind and another had been a nurse in a psychiatric facility and had been fascinated by the accuracy. One member noted that both were stories of broken people trying to reinvent themselves.
As we closed the discussion, we considered the meaning of the title, The Double Bind, and wondered if the author intended to suggest bad parenting as a part of the narrator’s problem. Many of us laughed as someone suggested that the book should have been called Catch 22.
I was especially impressed that the author commented on our Whitney Library Facebook page when we advertised our meeting and book choice: “Why thank you so much. Best part of the novel? Bob Campbell’s remarkable photographs.”
It’s truly a small world, imagined or not. It’s never too late to join the discussion!
- Other Works Discussed:
- A Beautiful Mind (Book 1998 and Movie) Sylvia Nash
- Shelter (2016 Movie)
- The Great Gatsby (1925) F. Scott Fitzgerald
- The Yellow Birds (2012) Kevin Powers
- The Language of Flowers (2011) Vanessa Diffenbaugh (not mentioned but related)
- Play Dead (2007) David Rosenfelt