Summary and book reviews of Before You Know Kindness by Chris Bohjalian

Before You Know Kindness

By Chris Bohjalian

Before You Know Kindness
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  • Hardcover: Oct 2004,
    448 pages.
    Paperback: Aug 2005,
    448 pages.

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Book Summary

For ten summers, the Seton family—all three generations—met at their country home in New England to spend a week together playing tennis, badminton, and golf, and savoring gin and tonics on the wraparound porch to celebrate the end of the season. In the eleventh summer, everything changed. A hunting rifle with a single cartridge left in the chamber wound up in exactly the wrong hands at exactly the wrong time, and led to a nightmarish accident that put to the test the values that unite the family—and the convictions that just may pull it apart.

Before You Know Kindness is a family saga that is timely in its examination of some of the most important issues of our era, and timeless in its exploration of the strange and unexpected places where we find love.

As he did with his earlier masterpiece, Midwives, Chris Bohjalian has written a novel that is rich with unforgettable characters—and absolutely riveting in its page-turning intensity.

The sun was up over Washington, Lafayette, and the trio of nearby cannonball-shaped mountains that were called the Three Graces, and Nan Seton—elderly but far from frail—sat sipping her morning coffee on a chaise lounge on the Victorian house's wraparound porch. She noted how the sun was rising much later now than it had even two or three weeks ago: It was already the twenty-eighth or twenty-ninth of July (it disturbed her that she couldn't grab the precise date right now from the air), and her children would be arriving tomorrow. Friday.

A golden retriever—old like her but not nearly so energetic—lolled near her feet on the outdoor rug.

She had been on the porch close to half an hour and even the coffee in the stovetop percolator she had brought outside with her was cold, when she heard her granddaughters pound their way down the stairs. The older girl, Charlotte, was twelve; the younger one, Willow (a name that drove Grandmother crazy both...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Every summer the extended Setons family gathers at the family homestead in New Hampshire, where Nan Seton, age seventy, presides over what her children and grandchildren jokingly call "The Seton New England Boot Camp." The hectic schedule of golf and tennis and swimming at the club, nature hikes before dinner, and badminton on the lawn in the waning hours of daylight is disrupted one Memorial Day weekend when Nan’s son-in-law, Spencer, corrals the family into planting a garden. An avid animal-rights activist, Spencer envisions tables laden with fresh fruits and vegetables and a new appreciation on the part of his skeptical extended family of the virtues of vegetarianism. But a horrible accident in the garden exposes deeper ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews
The New York Times Book Review

Few writers can manipulate a plot with Bohjalian’s grace and power.

San Francisco Chronicle

A modern, compelling drama...Bohjalian beautifully captures those dizzying moments that follow a tragedy, when disbelief and horror give way to an attempt to understand what has happened...For the characters Bohjalian has so tenderly created, kindness offers solace and an opportunity to move forward. In this novel, our eyes are opened to the possibility of redemption, even in these careless times.

Entertainment Weekly

Bohjalian has built a rich and complex family drama around a knotty, unanswerable set of questions.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Bohjalian has had much success in the past, including a selection as an Oprah Book Club author. Before You Know Kindness is better than anything he's written before.

The Burlington Free Press - David Huddle

Before you finish reading Before You Know Kindness, its most important character, 10-year-old Willow Seton, will become a member of your family. This decent kid struggles with an almost impossible dilemma, and Chris Bohjalian's new book is one of those deliciously compelling novels whose characters enter your consciousness like blood kin. In spite of how harrowing it is to read, you don't want it to end.

Publishers Weekly

More like Midwives and Trans-Sister Radio than the recent, more intimate The Buffalo Soldier, this patented blend of social commentary and soul-searching moral drama for the public radio crowd should do well for Bohjalian.

Bookpage

Bohjalian's character depictions are strong and complex, and readers will find themselves caring about the Seton clan . . . Before You Know Kindness is an engrossing story that entertains while making you think.

Kirkus Reviews

The finely drawn scenes and characters here will suck in all but the hardest-hearted. Pretty much irresistible.

Booklist - Kristine Huntley

Starred review. Bohjalian's elegant, refined writing makes even the most ordinary details of family life fascinating, and his characters leap off the pages as very real, flawed, but completely sympathetic human beings. Bohjalian manages to examine some very weighty issues without ever coming off as preachy or pedantic. A triumph.

Author Blurb Richard Russo, Winner of the Pulitzer Prize
Chris Bohjalian's many fans will be glad to know he's back on the high wire, expertly balancing topical issues with the more timeless concerns of the human heart. His well- drawn, sympathetic characters deepen and intensify the novel's gripping plot rather than simply serving it. Before You Know Kindness is smart, first-rate storytelling.

Author Blurb Julia Glass, Winner of the National Book Award
Once again, Chris Bohjalian dares to tackle the complexities — and complacencies — of modern society at its most vulnerable spot, where the personal clashes with the political, where the private is forced to go public. And once again, he forges a drama that will keep his readers on the edge of their seats . . . perhaps their conscience as well.

Reader Reviews
SAM

Before you pick up something else, read this
It's been a long time since I've read a book that develops both characters (all of them) and plot so well. There aren't any stereotypes in the former - these are fully fleshed individuals. And the plot tackles topics often given short shrift and ...   Read More

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