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