‘The noose stays’

September 2nd, 2009  |  Published in Snooping with the Stars  |  9 Comments

 “Never take the noose down. You don’t want to unleash the hounds of hell.”
–      Chris Bohjalian

Photo by Victoria Blewer

Photo by Victoria Blewer

By Elaine Matsushita
Maybe you thought Chris Bohjalian was just a writer (“Midwives,” “The Double Bind,” his latest, “Skeletons at the Feast” and eight other novels). But, no, he’s much more.

He’s also a man who’s wise enough to know that it’s best to leave the noose in the attic just where he found it when he bought his home in the tiny village of Lincoln, Vt., 22 years ago.

While someone with a healthy imagination (a novelist, perhaps?) might come up with all sorts of reasons for the noose being there, the truth is, according to the home’s previous owners, it was there simply to hang a lantern from when some chimney work was being done. (For the novelist’s take, you’ll have to pick up Chris’ 1991 book “Hangman.”)

Regardless of why the noose was there, Chris says: Let it be. Let the hounds be.

Chris and his wife, fine art photographer Victoria Blewer, bought the 1898 clapboard house with fish-scaled woodwork, four bedrooms and three porches in 1987 for about the same amount of money they sold their 580-square-foot coop in Brooklyn. This was shortly after the hounds of New York – and an angry cab driver — herded them out of the great metropolis.

Chris and Victoria had left a party in Manhattan about 11 at night and apparently ticked off the cabbie by directing him to their Brooklyn home.

“He was driving like a NASCAR driver. So fast he was actually pulled over to get a ticket — and here is where I changed my life forever,” Chris says. He asked the driver to turn off the meter while waiting for his speeding ticket.

Well, what happened next was the cabbie’s revenge: a 45-minute joy ride in which he ignored all traffic lights, all stop signs. When he’d satisfied himself and the ride was finally over, Chris and Victoria bolted out of the cab. A police officer was at corner and Chris went up to the cop to tell him about the out-of-control cabbie.

He was greeted with “Get the —- down.”

He’d apparently interrupted a crack house bust – there were bags and guns on the street and three guys spread eagle against a wall.

Next day, Chris says, the New York Times Travel section had a piece on the “people’s republic of Burlington, Vt.“We flew up to Burlington and fell in love with Vermont. And the rest is history.”

swts chris bohjalian office

Favorite thing about your home? A door in the basement that goes nowhere. (When Chris took an axe and broke it down, he found it opened to a 5-by-8-foot cubicle in the dirt under the house. Expect to find it in his book that’s due out in 2012, he says.)

What in your home screams “This is Chris Bohjalian’s’ place?” Well, when you walk in the door, the first thing you see are books. There are books in all the rooms. But when you walk in the house, you’ll see my Vermont collection. [About 220 to 230 books -- nothing but novels, poetry and things written by people who live in the state of Vermont.

One thing on your nightstand: Whatever books I’m reading and an alarm clock. Right now, I’m reading “The Girl Who Played with Fire” by Stieg Larsson, and “Finding Oz [How L. Frank Baum Discovered the Great American Story]” by Evan I. Schwartz. [The clock, I asked?] It’s a small analog clock. It’s most important feature is it’s absolutely silent. And the hands don’t light up in the dark. 

swts chris bohjalian office2

Where do you feel most creative in your home? I’ve worked in the library in the house for the last 22 years. (There are two desks there – one reserved for the editing of manuscripts, by hand. 

One thing you have in your house from your childhood: My baseball cards. [Chris has a few thousand, he says. And his favorite? Without a moment’s hesitation, “1969 Tom Seaver,” he replies.] 

What would we would find under your bed? It’s jammed completely with cardboard boxes full of [copies of my] books Random House has sent me — 20 copies of “[The] Buffalo Soldier,” 40 copies of “The Double Bind” — whenever a nonprofit needs a book, I  go under the bed.  

Photo by Victoria Blewer

Photo by Victoria Blewer

First thing you see when you enter your home: [Aside from the Vermont Collection of books], your eyes go to a Stephen Huneck ornament that hangs on the wall — a flying black-and-white cat with angel wings. (Huneck Is a wonderful artist/animal lover whom I met during a photo shoot for the Chicago Tribune YEARS ago. You should definitely check out his work, his story and his dog chapel.) 

Where is your favorite chair? The chair in which I write. It’s an antique chair my wife found 15 to 20  years ago. It’s a wooden chair with a very ornate back . . .  swivel chair from about 90 years ago.Everyone thinks it looks like a death chair but it’s not uncomfortable. 

Color of your bedroom walls: It’s got the wallpaper that came with house — salmon and green and white and lot of fleur de lis. It.must be 60 or 70 years old. . . . We kept the wallpaper in the bedroom because my wife loves it. But the rest of the house is probably almost unrecognizable to previous owners. 

swts chris bohjalias abbeyOne thing on a wall in your living room: One of my wife’s favorite photographs of an abbey in Montisi, Italy. It’s the abbey where the exteriors for “The English Patient” were filmed. “The English Patient” is one of my favorite novels and movies.

OK, besides the books and the baseball cards, what do you collect? I have the most extensive collection of Victoria Blewer fine art. And I collect fountain pens. I do all my editing with fountain pens. 

What music have you been listening to at home lately? A lot of Coldplay or The Fray or you’re going to occasionally hear some Broadway show tunes – but nothing before 1990. I don’t like the Ethel Meman screech. Both. 

What reading material would we find in your bathroom? Absolutely none. I read in bed or in a chair in a room we call the rec room – I love the western exposure. [In the summer and fall], I read on the screened porch. And winter, on the stationery bike at the gym. 

Do you hang your toilet paper over the front or down the back? Over the front. Absolutely. (Which segues oh-so naturally to this tremendous Snoop Scoop I got! Sit down for this (yes, even you guys) Confides Chris: I seldom reveal this, but when I graduated from college, I was working at J. Walter Thompson as an account executive (so I could write before and after work). Among my accounts was Scott bathroom tissue and paper towels. I was involved in a two-day off-site brainstorming session on how do we convince men to use bathroom tissue after they urinate – [what can we do to] inculcate this behavior. 

On a surprise visit, would we find your bed made? Yes. Becase my wife always makes the bed in the morning. She loves a made bed and getting into a bed with tight sheets at night. 

Photo by Victoria Blewer

Photo by Victoria Blewer


Best furniture bargain you ever got?
We have two spectacular, fabulous ‘50s armless living room chairs that look like they came from the Jetsons. My wife reupholstered them and now they’re navy blue with futuristic navy blue stuff. We got them at a volunteer fireman’s auction – we got two for $6.

(Chris, who shares his home with his wife and daughter, Grace Experience Blewer, will be in the Chicago area at The Ragdale Foundation’s annual “Dinner with an Author” fundraiser in Lake Forest on Oct. 2 and 3. His new book, “Secrets of Eden,” “a novel of shattered faith, intimate secrets, and the delicate exploration of the nature of sacrifice” hits shelves in February.)

Responses

  1. Rose Mary Muench says:

    October 5th, 2009at 12:05 pm(#)

    I loved the article! Of course, he’s my nephew so he can do no wrong and is basically, a nice and funny guy….hasn’t changed at all.

    I do feel badly that he didn’t mention his aunt and uncle’s first visit to Lincoln, VT, and his telling the story of the hangman’s rope in the eave and most assuredly, that there was a ghost in the house.

    That night I needed to use the bathroom which was downstairs. There was no bathroom upstairs, and frankly, I wouldn’t have used that one either without the protection of my husband and some light!!!!! Couldn’t find a light anywhere!

    My husband pulled matches out of his pants pocket and walked me downstairs with bookmatches! He promised me he would fight off any ghost on the way back upstairs….

    and yes, Chris certainly has a very vivid imagintion!

  2. Harold Weber says:

    January 1st, 2010at 7:32 am(#)

    Just finished reading “Skeletons at the Feast” and was highly impressed with the novel; wow, i could not put it down until I finished it. Looking forward to reading some of the other books!

  3. Joan Phillips says:

    February 9th, 2010at 6:39 am(#)

    I loved the article and photos of the house. I believe I have read every book Chris has written, starting with Midwives and the last was Skeletons at the Feast.
    I could not put any of them down and read well into early morning. I have just ordered the latest book today and am looking foreward to reading it(and probably missing a lot of sleep).

  4. Cheryle Rauchle says:

    March 3rd, 2010at 4:32 pm(#)

    I am now reading Secrets of Eden and i am loving it. First discovered “Midwives” in a bookstore in Newport, VT many years ago and was hooked. I have read everything of his i can get my hands on and while liking some better then others i have never been dissapointed. Keep on writing as i look forward to whats next.

  5. Marian Polglase says:

    April 3rd, 2010at 5:18 pm(#)

    I’ve read Midwives, Skeletons at the Feast, The Double Bind, and just finished The Buffalo Soldier. LOVED them all. (I’m saving the new one for my road trip in a couple weeks.) Chris is my new favorite author and I intend to read every book he’s written.
    Now if I only knew how to pronounce his last name, for the times I recommend his books to my friends!!

  6. Nan Hart says:

    April 6th, 2010at 11:22 am(#)

    Have become quite a fan in just a few years and now have read many of your books. They are all quite unique and that continues to keep me reading your books! Skeletons At The Feast is my favorite but Double Bind was awesome as well. You are coming to our local library tomorrow night and so I wanted to read your bio before meeting you in person. Can’t wait to see what you offer us next!
    Nan Hart
    Rutland, VT

  7. Nan Abbott-Hourigan says:

    May 1st, 2010at 1:51 pm(#)

    For Marian.. I do believe it’s Bow-jail-ee-ann. :)

    I have read all Chris’s books (save Skeletons at the Feast, which is next) and just finished Secrets of Eden last night. I was stretching out the last couple of chapters because I always get to that point and just don’t want to face it that I’m coming to the end of another fabulous read! Chris is also my favorite, having replaced John Irving as of late! I’m always in great anticipation of the next Bohjalian novel!

  8. Elizabeth Clark says:

    May 22nd, 2010at 4:40 pm(#)

    Hi!
    I just finished reading “Secrets of Eden” in one day. I couldn’t put it down. I’m a Florida mom with two young boys and two dogs and finding time to read a book is really tough. I had been waiting for this book in my local library in St. Augustine for over a month as there were two hundred plus people on the waiting list. Being from Vermont and having a husband who is a University of Alabama graduate I find his books fill an interesting space in our home. My youngest son is already calling for my attention so many thanks for a heart provoking novel that captivates the moral mind.
    Elizabeth Clark

  9. Donna Diamond says:

    July 6th, 2010at 9:00 pm(#)

    I first became a fan and “email friend” of Chris’s just after he wrote MIDWIVES in 1999. As a book discussion leader, I had made MIDWIVES a selection for our monthly gathering. Our discussion was lively and I emailed Chris to let him know how much we all thoroughly enjoyed reading the story of Sybil Danforth.
    Now, many books later and even more telephone chats with Chris have solidified our faith in his writing,our enjoyment of his prose, and our anticipation of his next venture. From BEFORE YOU KNOW KINDNESS to THE DOUBLE BIND and now THE SECRETS OF EDEN, I am delighted to speak on behalf of my four book discussion groups when I say, “Thank you, Chris Bohjalian, for your storytelling skills and for bringing us so many unforgettable characters. It has been our great pleasure to get to know you through your words”.

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