Before You Know Kindness – Book Review

All households had their mysteries, their particular forms of dysfunction. -From Before You Know Kindness, page 177-

The Seton and McCullough families are close…and every year they meet in New Hampshire at matriarch Nan Seton’s summer home to spend Memorial Day weekend together. Nan is in her seventies but “vigorous,” and her constant activity (whether it be swimming, golfing or mowing the lawn) drives these family reunions. But when thirteen year old Charlotte finds her Uncle John’s deer hunting rifle and discharges it into the garden on the last day of July, everything changes.

In the opening paragraphs of Chris Bohjalian’s novel Before You Know Kindness,  the reader learns that Charlotte’s father, Spencer McCullough – a fanatical vegan animal rights activist – is on the receiving end of his daughter’s shot into the dark. Seriously injured with a crippling arm injury, he is forced to re-examine his life and priorities…and the repercussions of that night will reverberate throughout the family.

Bohjalian is one of my favorite writers because he is skilled at creating gripping story lines and delving deep into his characters’ psyches. In Before You Know Kindness, Bohjalian examines the cracks which lie beneath the surface of a family, and how those cracks can become deep fissures on the heels of one tragic event. Thematically, the novel explores the political argument of gun control and animal rights…and on a more personal level, deals with the ideas of secrets, narcissism, and family relationships.

As a physical therapist, I was pulled into the psychological tension of the novel which develops as a result of a physically devastating accident – how does a person deal with a life-altering disability which has the power to either strengthen or destroy relationships? All of us have the choice to be angry or forgiving in the face of tragedy – what is it that makes us chose one over the other?

Bohjalian’s prose is honest, searing and compelling. Before You Know Kindness is ultimately a story of redemption and the power of forgiveness.


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  1. This is the first and so far only book by Bohjalian that I have had the chance to read. I fell in love with the author’s writing style and knew it wouldn’t be my last. I am glad you enjoyed this one as well, Wendy.

    • Julie on June 1, 2008 at 06:17

    Sounds good. Yet another of your posts makes its way to my TBR Bookmarks folder. 🙂

    • Wendy on June 1, 2008 at 07:06

    WendyCat: I know what you mean about Bohjalian’s style – the only book so far I’ve read by him that I haven’t loved was The Double Bind. I just bought his newest book the other day.

    Julie: Hope you’ll enjoy it as I did!

  2. I’ve had this one sitting on the TBR shelves (which describes most of the shelves, to be honest) for awhile. I’m planning some vacation reading right now, and having read and liked a couple of Bohjalian’s books before, I may just need to add this one to the stack of books to bring on my trip. Thanks for the good review!

    • Wendy on June 1, 2008 at 15:10

    Florinda: My biggest dilemma always seems to be which books to bring with me on vacation. I usually end up bringing far too many!

    • Teddy on June 2, 2008 at 15:33

    Great review Wendy! Since I am a vegan myself, I added it to my TBR with a bit of trepidation.

    • Wendy on June 3, 2008 at 07:40

    Thanks Teddy! Oh, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the book…looking forward to reading them!

  3. The only Bohjalian book I’ve read so far has been The Buffalo Soldier and I loved it. This one sounds very good!!

    • Wendy on June 10, 2008 at 16:57

    Suzi: I really liked The Buffalo Soldier as well…

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