Jennifer Reese
October 15, 2004 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Before You Know Kindness

type
Book
Current Status
In Season
author
Chris Bohjalian
publisher
Random House
genre
Fiction

We gave it a B+

In Chris Bohjalian’s nifty, book-club-ready novel, Before You Know Kindness, sanctimonious animal rights activist Spencer McCullough is accidentally shot and crippled by his 12-year-old daughter, Charlotte. Who deserves the blame? Spencer’s brother-in-law, a weekend hunter, who carelessly left the rifle in the trunk of his car? Charlotte, who was stoned when she pulled the trigger? Would she have been stoned if her self-righteous daddy paid as much attention to her as he did to, say, the plight of the lobster? Bohjalian (Midwives) has built a rich and complex family drama around this knotty, unanswerable set of questions. But his depiction of Spencer’s animal rights colleagues — a ruthless bunch of emotionally stunted zealots who want to exploit the tragedy for their cause — belongs in a far less nuanced novel, as does the pat, treacly conclusion.

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