I grieve for the parents who have outlived their children, and I will always despair for the children who have watched their own parents break the rapture of the night with violence. – from Secrets of Eden –
Reverend Stephen Drew watches over his flock in the small Vermont town of Haverill…or does he? When one of his parishioners (Alice Hayward) is strangled by her abusive husband, who then turns a gun on himself (leaving their fifteen year old daughter Katie an orphan), Stephen seems to be wrestling with his faith. But when later the coroner’s office rules George Hayward’s death a homicide, Stephen’s moral character rather than his faith is called into question. Stephen’s life is further complicated by the arrival of Heather Laurent, an author whose obsession with angels feels a little bit out of whack. And Catherine Benincasa, the deputy’s state attorney, is left to sort out all the characters in this small town and unravel what exactly happened on the day Alice and George Hayward died.
Chris Bohjalian’s novel, Secrets of Eden, is narrated in the four distinct voices of Stephen, Heather, Catherine, and Katie. This technique allows the reader to see events from very different perspectives and allows for some twists and turns along the way.
It becomes clear early on that the pastor is an unreliable narrator with plenty of secrets. He was one of my least favorite characters in the book. Heather, his romantic interest, is the character who connects all the other characters in the book but I felt she didn’t really move the plot forward…and her connection with angels, although interesting, seemed a bit extraneous. I really enjoyed the section narrated by Catherine who is a tough and smart woman with an unrelenting quest to find the truth. And finally there is Katie, a seemingly typical teen who has suffered through a childhood of violence and uncertainty and finally left parent-less.
None of the characters are exactly as they seem, most harbor secrets or dark pasts.
Thematically, Bohjalian explores the aftermath of domestic violence, betrayal, and the consequences of secrets. Although I figured out the ending about half way through the book, that did not take away my enjoyment of the story.
Bohjalian is a talented storyteller who knows how to reel in a reader. Secrets of Eden will appeal to readers who enjoy heavily plotted books told from multiple viewpoints. I liken Bohjalian’s narrative style to Jodi Picoult who also writes “ripped from the headlines” novels with multiple narrators.