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.