Clearly Bohjalian intends to be provocative in this novel, the juxtaposition of angels and murder creating a set of circumstances that requires reflection and the careful examination of motives. When the bodies of Alice and George Hayward are found in their home on a Monday morning, the small town of Haverill, Vermont, believes the scenes to be a murder-suicide.
It is fortunate that the couple’s daughter, fifteen-year-old Katie, was at a concert with her best friend the night of the tragedy. And as we learn from the first narrative voice, Reverend Stephen Drew, Alice’s singular remark after her baptism by immersion the morning of her death was simply, “There.” Now Drew faces a profound crisis of conscience made more difficult when her encounters the second narrative voice, Heather Laurent. A firm believer in the existence of angels - one has saved her life - Heather is drawn by her own history to the scene of the Hayward’s demise and a deep concern for Katie, the survivor.
Another pivotal character, albeit of less importance, is the State’s Attorney, Catherine Benincasa. Catherine is the voice of reason, the sorter of facts unlikely to be seduced by the charm of a bachelor minister or the rationale of a beautiful author who believes in the beneficence of angels. Finally, there is Katie, linked to Laurent by their shared histories, struggling to find her place in the world as an orphan.
Slyly the author winds his protagonists together in a slow dance of seduction, betrayal, gossip and suspicion, the deaths a catalyst for random emotions unleashed by the unexpected violence in a small town. Stephen seems glib and heartless, in Heather’s opinion (even through the eyes of romance), “a lot like the real wife-beaters, a great self-deluder.” But then Heather has her own faults, not the least of which is that “I had allowed my mortal judgment to cloud my celestial instincts.”
While the angels hover, murder is a fact, Alice the victim of a chronic wife-beater, his insanity fueled by alcohol and rage. As Heather clings to her theories of private salvation, Drew is forced to deal with uglier realities as his private life is revealed to all and sundry, his motives questioned as well as his honor.
Bohjalian constructs a clever house of cards that is more complicated than it first appears, challenging the rightness of perceptions tainted by private prejudices, from the ethereal heather Laurent to the nightmarish reality of abused women. In the end, the truth remains a mystery, and Eden is simply a story, a reminder that “we never outgrow those small, wounded things we were.”