Thank you to NetGalley and Doubleday for providing an e-book in exchange for an honest review.
When Kristin Chapman agrees to let her husband, Richard, host his brother’s bachelor party, she expects a certain amount of debauchery. She brings their young daughter to Manhattan for the evening, leaving her Westchester home to the men and their entertainment. What she does not expect is this: bacchanalian drunkeness, her husband sharing a dangerously intimate moment in the guest bedroom, and two naked women stabbing and killing their Russian bodyguards before driving off into the night. In the aftermath, Kristin and Richard’s life rapidly spirals into a nightmare. The police throw them out of their home, which is now a crime scene, Richard’s investment banking firm puts him on indefinite leave, and Kristin is unsure if she can forgive her husband for the moment he shared with a dark-haired girl in the guest room. But the dark-haired girl, Alexandra, faces a much graver danger. In one breathless, violent night, she is free, running to escape the police who will arrest her and the gangsters who will kill her in a heartbeat.
Sex trafficking is an increasing human rights problem here in the U.S., and in his latest book Chris Bohjalian takes this true life horror and spins a compelling fictional tale around it.
The story is told in the third person and chapters alternate primarily between Richard and Alexandra, one of the girls brought in to “entertain” at the bachelor party. Interspersed are a few chapters focusing on Richard’s wife Kristin, and their nine-year-old daughter Melissa.
I actually wound up feeling more sympathy toward Richard than I thought I would. Yes he shows a lamentable lack of judgement at times throughout the novel, but believe it or not, he’s actually a pretty honorable man who loves his wife and daughter and is fiercely protective of them. Having no idea that the two girls are sex slaves, not the strippers he and his wife had expected would be hired by his brother’s friends, he quickly finds himself over his head, and no matter what he does, he can’t seem to extricate himself from the quagmire he’s in. Some of the decisions he makes, particularly the ones in the final moments of the story, didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, but given that this is a man who has had his world torn apart and is just trying to do the right thing at this point, I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt.
The chapters that focus on Richard’s wife Kristin, are interesting in that they explore her feelings regarding her husband and what has happened, but the real gut-wrenching chapters are those that shine the spotlight on Melissa and Alexandra. Melissa’s are compelling as the little girl struggles to understand what has happened and how it’s affected her feelings towards her father. On top of that she’s anxious over whether this will split up her parents. The author saves the most powerful passages for Alexandra whose story is told in the first person. Through her eyes you are taken on a tragic journey that begins in Armenia with a young girl who dreams of becoming a ballerina, only to be betrayed in the worst way by someone she trusted. You see the ugly world of sex trafficking through her eyes, and it makes this story difficult to read at times, though no less compelling.
Despite a few flaws, The Guest Room is a novel that successfully tackles a sad and under-reported topic and combines it with an intimate look at the fragility of relationships and how one bad decision can have a domino effect. By turns poignant and suspenseful, it’s a timely story that you’ll have a difficult time forgetting.