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'The Double Bind' by Chris Bohjalian - Book Review

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The Double Bind by Chris Bohjalian

The Double Bind - Courtesy Random House

The Bottom Line

The Double Bind is a story about a young woman working at homeless shelter who becomes fascinated with photographs taken by one of her clients, photos that suggest he might be tied to her own past in mysterious ways. Chris Bohjalian’s novel is plotted like a mystery but is written like the best literary fiction. One of Bohjalian’s previous books, Midwives, was chosen as an Oprah’s Book Club selection, and The Double Bind should win him even more fans.
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  • 'The Double Bind' is a page-turner that’s also sensitive and beautifully written.
  • The book is scattered with arresting photographs taken by the man who inspired Bohjalian’s novel.


  • The book opens with a violent scene that makes this inappropriate for young readers.


  • Laurel Estabrook is a young woman in her twenties who works at a homeless shelter in Vermont.
  • Laurel is still coping with with a violent attack she experienced during college.
  • She begins sorting through photographs taken by a homeless man, realizing he grew up near her.
  • She believes he was related to the family F. Scott Fitzgerald created in The Great Gatsby.

Guide Review - 'The Double Bind' by Chris Bohjalian - Book Review

Laurel Estabrook works at a homeless shelter in Burlington, Vermont, helping her clients get off the street and into homes. Somewhat reserved, possibly due to being violently attacked while biking alone in college, she’s absorbed by her hobby of photography. Her boss asks her to look at the photographs taken by one of their former clients, and the photos reveal an amazing talent but also suggest links to Laurel’s own past.

The book is scattered with actual photographs taken by a once-homeless man that inspired the author to consider why someone with incredible talent might become homeless. The Double Bind considers the question of homelessness and mental illness with sensitivity. The fictional photographs described in the novel tell Laurel as much about herself as they do about the photographer, and set her on a path that will change her life. The Great Gatsby plays a prominent role in all of this: Fitzgerald’s characters and plot lines are taken to be true, and affect present-day characters.

Chris Bohjalian has written several successful novels, including previous bestseller and Oprah’s Book Club selection Midwives. In his latest effort, Bohjalian masterfully weaves fact and fiction, writing and photography, sanity and delusion into a tale that’s compelling and lingers in your thoughts. The Double Bind is a must-read.

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