Excerpt from The Lioness by Chris Bohjalian, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Lioness

A Novel

by Chris Bohjalian

The Lioness by Chris Bohjalian X
The Lioness by Chris Bohjalian
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  • First Published:
    May 2022, 336 pages

    May 2023, 336 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Kim Kovacs
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Reggie Stout was the lone exception: he honestly seemed to want only what she wanted. He was far more to her than a publicist and she put considerably more stock in his counsel than she did in even her agent's--and she trusted Peter Merrick a very great deal. Reggie seemed as invested in her future and her happiness as a real father might be, though this was supposition since some days she hoped desperately that Roman Stepanov was not her real father. Even now, she and her brother, Billy, joked that both of them were babies who had been swapped out at birth, and they weren't really related to the two grown-ups who had pretended to be their parents. She had chosen Billy to walk her down the aisle the week before last, since her own father had died last year within days of Jack Kennedy, though in far less dramatic circumstances. He'd had a heart attack in a cab on the way home from the theater. The cabbie, at her mother's direction, had turned around and raced to St. Luke's, but her father was dead by the time he was wheeled into the emergency room.

The New York papers would have devoted more space than they did to the Broadway icon's death, but the president took precedent. Katie was grateful, because the last thing she would have wanted that horrible week was to do press with her mother and have to feign grief. She was a good actress--but not that good. Billy was convinced she had chosen movies over the stage, which was the family business, because it meant that she was usually at least three time zones away from their mother, a woman he once called "a singular rarity: a cold-blooded mammal." Both siblings detested her. They had disliked their father, with reason, but they had loathed their mother--though, arguably, Billy had greater cause than Katie.

"This is when the giraffe is most vulnerable," Emmanuel, their African guide, was saying, his accent sounding both British and Maasai to Katie. "How much does a giraffe's neck weigh?" he asked good-naturedly. He was easily seventy, and he was like a schoolteacher with these Americans. He didn't merely want them to see the Serengeti: he wanted them to understand it. It was a world that he loved and a world he loved sharing.

"Easily six hundred pounds," Katie answered. She was the only one of the nine guests who'd never been to college, and she understood it was a little pathetic the way she always had to be first with the correct answer. But she did. She needed Emmanuel's approval.

Carmen was like that, too, though she had been to college. In her case, Katie supposed, it was because Carmen always played supporting roles: she was usually the leading lady's best friend or sister, the gal with a couple of memorable wisecracks but never the sort of scene that allowed her to show off real acting chops. Being the smartest woman in the room was her way of compensating.

"Good, good," Emmanuel was reassuring her. "It takes time to look up and look around. That's why they don't all drink at once."

"And their legs," Katie said. "They're in no position to run."

"No," Emmanuel agreed. "Excellent."

David put his arm around her shoulders and pulled her into him. He whispered into her ear, "Thank you."

She turned from the giraffes to her husband. They'd now been married thirteen days. They'd honeymooned alone--in style and civilization--in Paris, before meeting the other seven guests she was bringing on safari at the airport outside Paris and flying to Nairobi. Now they were still traveling in style and in a most civilized fashion--the kerosene-powered ice maker the excursion company provided awed her, because, of course, you had to have a proper gin and tonic at the end of a long day on safari--though the civilization was provided by an entourage of seventeen Kenyans and Tanzanians (including two armed rangers), sixteen of whom were Black. The exception was Charlie Patton, no relation, he pointedly told everyone as soon as he was introduced, to the American general. Patton had once been one of the great white hunters, born to colonials at the very end of the nineteenth century--he still had the sort of handlebar moustache she associated with cavalry officers from another era--but he had figured out the real money now was with the likes of movie stars such as Katie Barstow. People who wanted to photograph elephants, not shoot them. People who might want a zebra rug or a zebra purse but didn't want to see the damn thing actually killed.

Excerpted from The Lioness by Chris Bohjalian. Copyright © 2022 by Chris Bohjalian. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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