I’ve read other books by Chris Bohjalian and enjoyed them, namely Midwives and The Double Bind. Both had twists that I didn’t see coming. The twist in The Double Bind infuriated me so much that I still think about it, at least five years after I read the book.
Close Your Eyes. Hold Hands didn’t have a twist, but I kept expecting one, based on my previous experience. It didn’t matter though. The idea for the story is good, I liked the character telling the story and there was a beginning, a middle and an end. Perfect. No twist.
The story is told by Emily Shepherd, the teenage daughter of an engineer who was in charge of a nuclear power plant in Vermont which had a massive meltdown. Emily’s father is blamed by the media for the incident, as he has a history of drinking too much, as did Emily’s mother. Emily’s parents were both killed during the meltdown. Emily tells the story through her journal, which skips back and forwards in time as she thinks of what she wants to tell.
When the problems at the power plant started, Emily was at school. Very soon after the school students and community were evacuated, rumours that Emily’s father was to blame for the meltdown begin circulating. Her father’s reputation suffers in a trial by media, and he becomes the most hated man in the world. Emily is also conscious that her safety is endangered because of her father’s reputation. When Emily learns that the authorities are conducting an investigation and intend to interview her about her father’s possible drunkenness on the night of the meltdown, she runs away.
Emily hides her true identity, by calling herself ‘Abby Bliss’. For a while she lived in a group house, prostituting herself for money. She learns where she can steal food and clothes from, and starts using drugs and cutting herself. Eventually Emily leaves the group house and builds an igloo on the street made of rubbish bags and leaves. While she is living in the igloo she takes on the responsibility of an eleven year old boy called Cameron, who has been abused in foster care.
Eventually, things come to a head. Not surprisingly, even before the meltdown, Emily was a troubled teen. She is very bright, although she didn’t apply herself to her school work. The only thing she works hard at is writing poetry, and she keeps that a secret. Emily has enormous respect and admiration for Emily Dickinson and points out in her journal similarities in her own life to Emily Dickinson’s.
This book’s plot probably owes something to the Fukushima Daiicchi nuclear disaster in Japan in 2011, which was caused by a tsunami, which was in turn caused by an earthquake. I can imagine the author thinking “What if,” and this book being created as a result.
I’m grateful that Australia doesn’t have nuclear power. It is something I will never vote for. I’m not naïve, I know Australia will run out of fuel for power one day and we will need alternatives. I don’t know what the answer is. Wind turbines, (it is said), can’t provide all of the power we will need, although they are becoming more and more common here. They are certainly noisy and ugly, but no one will ever die if things go wrong.
I recommend Close Your Eyes. Hold Hands to anyone who likes to think about a plot both while they are reading and after they have finished the book. I think this story will be with me for some time to come.