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Review for "Before You Know Kindness" by Chris Bohjalian


For many years, the late columnist Ann Landers promoted an annual Reconciliation Day, a day for people to reach out and extend peace to those with whom they'd had a "falling out." I always thought that was a good idea because I've noticed that anger is truly exhausting. If you've ever had a lengthy feud with someone, you know how much work it takes to keep it up. You also know how much you really - deep down - want it to end.

An accidental tragedy splits a family in two in the new novel "Before You Know Kindness" by Chris Bohjalian (c.2004, Shaye Areheart Books), and though everyone wants the rift repaired, it's not an easy fix.

Every summer the Seton family gathers at the New Hampshire home of Nan, matriarch of the family. This summer is a little different than others, though. This summer, there's been a shooting.

At the beginning of this summer, Nan's son-in-law Spencer insisted on planting a large vegetable garden. Spencer is a strict vegan, and he works for FERAL, an organization that fights for animal rights. Catherine, Spencer's wife, thinks that Spencer's ideals are a little too extreme. Catherine has been eating meat on the sly, and she's thinking of leaving Spencer.

Nan's granddaughters have always been close, and this summer is no exception. Spencer and Catherine's daughter, Charlotte, is almost 13 and a "typical" teenager. Willow, child of Nan's son John and his wife Sara, is just 10, but though she lacks her Manhattan cousin's "street smarts," she possesses common sense and a soothing manner.

John, Willow's father, has taken up a new hobby this summer. John hunts. He knows that his new hobby would horrify Spencer, so John keeps it to himself; in fact, there's a gun in his trunk that he knows needs to be fixed, and he'll take it to the gunsmith soon. He just doesn't want Spencer around when he does it.

But Spencer is around, and unfortunately he's around the wrong place at the wrong time. When Charlotte finds John's gun, she says she thought she was shooting a deer. John thought the gun was defective, but FERAL's lawyers want justice. Will Spencer learn to put his family first, before he tears it completely apart?

Normally, I don't like a book that has so many characters that you need a spreadsheet to follow along, but "Before You Know Kindness" is different. Author Bohjalian makes all the people in his book so totally different that it's easy to remember who's who. While you might be able to predict the ending, getting there is half the fun, although I did think that 50 pages of this book could've been shaved off with little or no story loss.

"Before You Know Kindness" is a great book group book; in fact, there is a book group guide included. Even if you're not in a book group, the underlying message of forgiveness and tolerance makes it one to share with someone with whom you want to reconcile.

You may contact Terri Schlichenmeyer by e-mailing bookwormsez@yahoo.com.

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