The Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian

The Night StrangersThe Night Strangers by Chris Bohjalian

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Night Strangers is the first novel I have read by Chris Bohjalian, and I think I’ve found a new addiction! I absolutely loved this touching, disturbing, frightening tale of a family who move to an isolated old house in rural New Hampshire to escape a tragic past, and in fact, encounter a new and greater danger.
The Night Strangers has two main perspectives. The first is that of Chip, the pilot of an aircraft which collides with a flock of geese and who is forced to attempt a water landing. The plane crash, told from the second-person perspective of Chip, is one of the most harrowing prologues to a novel I have yet read. Following the crash, Chip and his family move to a rural area to try to put the past, and his PTSD, behind them.
The second perspective in The Night Strangers is the third-person narration following Chip’s wife Emily, their twin daughters, Hallie and Garnet, and various neighbors in their adopted community. Chip and his family are immediately likeable. Chip is a devoted father with a passion for flying and immense guilt over a plane crash that he could not have prevented. Emily is calm, kind, and intelligent, and the twins, while having very different personalities, are also the closest of companions. The villagers, on the other hand, are a group of women, and a few men, who have an almost obsessive penchant for gardening, or being “herbalists,” as they call themselves. At first, the community seems idyllic, but, as in the tradition of The Stepford Wives, the herbalists are not as innocuous as they at first appear.
I enjoyed so many things about The Night Strangers. First of all, as mentioned above, Bohjalian has a gift of writing an absolutely gripping, hold-your-breath, kind of scary scene. But along with this, he writes characters with great emotional depth and authenticity. Despite the fact that The Night Strangers is a story with elements of the supernatural, it felt to me as if I really didn’t have to suspend disbelief. Bohjalian writes about the supernatural in such a way that I would think, “yes, if such things exist, this is what it would be like.” Bohjalian also is a master of creating a setting that adds to the mood of his story. The Victorian house in New Hampshire, and the descriptions of nature, lend a sense of beauty, fragility, and spookiness to the tale.
Finally, Bohjalian includes fascinating detail about airplanes, plane crashes, and the use of plants by herbalists. He includes detail in a way that enhances the story, rather than slowing down the plot.
So in so many ways, The Night Strangers was a lovely discovery for me. I liked it so much that I purchased Bohjalian’s Midwives, also set in the northeastern United States, and began reading that before I had completely finished The Night Strangers.  Bohjalian has written 17 books, which vary from historical fiction to thriller, and I am very much looking forward to enjoying more of his work.

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