“Before You Know Kindness” by Chris Bohjalian

Genre:  Domestic DramaBefore You Know Kindness
Publisher:  Random House
Pub. Date:  Aug. 9, 2005        

Chris Bohjalian is one of my all-time favorite authors.   However, this is not my favorite Bohjalian novel.   Actually, it is probably my least favorite.  “Kindness” is a character-driven novel about the importance of family.  Later I will get to what I didn’t like about the story.  I did enjoy the well-developed characters. The novel centers on a 70-year-old grandmother, her two grown children, her children’s spouses, and her grandchildren, two preteen girls and an infant boy.  The grown son and daughter grew up in their mother’s luxurious apartment in NYC.  As children, they summered in their country home in New in Hampshire. The family has owned both homes for generations. We are talking old money here—lots of it. In the present, at the end of each summer, all three generations meet at the country home for one week of tennis, golf, the club, the pool, the beach, and summer cocktails.

I found the family drama interesting.  Both marriages are in trouble for different reasons.  Bohjalian does a good job of explaining what can happen when one of the husbands is obsessed with his work for animal rights.   And the other is feeling the strain of having a newborn in middle age.  The author does an excellent job of nailing down preteen dilemmas.  Out of the female granddaughters/cousins, one is a bit shy of thirteen who desperately wants to be sixteen.  The other is a bit shy of eleven and her older cousin’s tag-along.  One night the female cousins go to a teenage bonfire where there is pot and beer.  Both girls get in way over their heads while their parents’ lost in their own dilemmas are clueless.

Before the reader even gets to know the family, the novel opens with a prologue describing the aftermath of a tragic accident involving a rifle. As the tale progresses, we learn that the man who is shot (no spoiler here) is the father who is the animal rights activist as well as an advocate and lecturer for abolishing hunting.  These are two noble causes.  My issue with the author’s narrative is that the characters often seem to have been forgotten so that he can write what feels like a lengthy paper on these social issues. There is so much extensive detail on the subject, pages long worth that I found myself skimming.   If the master storyteller simply would have cut out some of the lecturing, this would have read more like his usual novels, consisting of an interesting plot with believable, well fleshed out characters, rather than a close-to-boring term paper.

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