Any author, whether for their literary agent or publisher or simply for themselves, needs to understand the market for their book. This means searching for books similar in key aspects of plot, character, and genre. It was while performing this interesting task—and finding a number of books which I’d like to read—that I came across Chris Bohjalian’s The Red Lotus.
Chris is a prolific writer and, as we New Englanders like to say of those who reside in our cozy, small adjoining states of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont—in this case Chris in Vermont, me in Massachusetts—we’re neighbors. He and I live where one of the greatest concentrations of American writers, both living and dead, have called home. I love it that I can go for a bike ride and in less than ten miles pass by where Louisa May Alcott, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry David Thoreau once wrote. I’m pretty certain Chris Bohjalian feels similarly about the poets and novelists of the Green State.
All of which is to say I was looking forward to reading Chris’s latest, The Red Lotus, which in truth I could not say after reading the first fifty pages of The Flight Attendant for reasons we shall not dwell upon in this review. And to avoid prevarication, I must add that the vibes of similarities between The Red Lotus and my own forthcoming novel, Bridge Across the Ocean, created more than sufficient reason, to wit:
- An Asian setting
- Two lovers with problems
- An unexpected threat.
Admittedly, there are only so many plotlines a novelist has to choose from. Some of those who study such things have actually enumerated them, ranging from four to the mid-30s. And sure enough, the plots of The Red Lotus and Bridge Across the Ocean soon diverged from one another in intriguing directions. Just as they should.
Chris Bohjalian is a good writer, and he knows how to spin a good story. In these days of prolific production by the masses of writers who have found and embraced “self-publishing,” there are significant distinctions between those who can sustain a compelling narrative and convincing plot twists essential to establishing a what-happens-next narrative. The Red Lotus is exemplary in this respect because of its author’s keen attention to detail and careful crafting.
I chose to listen to the Audible version and was pleased to learn it was narrated by the talented Rebecca Lowman, who captured the personality of Alexis, an ER doctor and the mystified girlfriend of Austin, to perfection. I feel the voiceover actors for audiobooks are nearly as important as the author in terms of conveying the characters, the plot, the what-happens-next. Ms. Lowman succeeds, as does Mr. Bohjalian himself.