By Christopher Bollen
Reviewed by Graeme Aitken
Christopher Bollen is a former editor-in-chief of Interview magazine, but his true calling is as a novelist, judging by his expansive and engrossing second book.
Orient is set in a secluded village on Long Island which is being increasingly taken over by wealthy weekenders and successful New York artists. Mills Chevern is a young gay man with a hazy past who arrives in town. He’s been taken under the wing of Paul Benchley, a successful architect who inherited his house from his parents and has hired Mills as a favour to clean out the decades worth of detritus that had accumulated. The locals, increasingly wary of outsiders, are particularly suspicious of this ‘foster care kid’. These qualms are fanned by Paul’s nearest neighbour Pam Muldoon, and when she later discovers Mills in her son Tommy’s bedroom – and her son without any pants on! − her suspicions harden into outrage.
But there are plenty of other far more unsettling events going on in this small town. The local caretaker who is privy to many of the town’s secrets is found drowned in suspicious circumstances, his feet bound by rope. An elderly local woman Magdalena is convinced he was murdered, but she herself is found dead shortly after voicing her suspicions to her neighbour Beth. Then a mysterious creature washes ashore that can’t be identified, but which many presume has originated from nearby Plum Island, home to the US Animal Disease Centre.
It sounds like there is a lot going on but this is a big novel at over 600 pages, and it’s compellingly written and acutely observed. The murders and suspicious events give the narrative the pace and tension of a superior crime novel, while the characters are superbly drawn, in particular the many artist types which the author clearly knows well. One reviewer likened it to The Great Gatsby crossed with Donna Tartt and it’s an apt comparison, though with a gay twist!