Before You Know Kindness (2004)



For ten summers, the Seton family — all three generations — met at their country home in New Hampshire, to spend a week together playing tennis, badminton, and golf, and savoring gin and tonics on the wraparound porch to celebrate the end of the season. In the eleventh summer, everything changed. A hunting rifle with a single cartridge left in the chamber wound up in exactly the wrong hands at exactly the wrong time, and lead to a nightmarish accident that put to the test the values that unite the family — and the convictions that just may pull it apart.

Rich with unforgettable characters, Before You Know Kindness is first and foremost a family saga. It’s the tale of three generations of women — and the dysfunctional men in their lives — and the strange and unexpected places where we find love.

This edition also includes an extensive reading group guide as part of the printed book.


“Gunfire and its aftermath force the survivors to confront a surprisingly complicated question: How best to live? . . . Before You Know Kindness is messier, funnier and, I think, better [than Midwives].”

Claire Dederer
The New York Times Book Review

“Striking. . .masterly . . . With admirable skill and ease Bohjalian moves his narrative from one character to another without favoring any particular one . . . [He] excels at getting his characters into terribly awkward circumstances, more pathetic than tragic, and then showing us how they rise, or don’t quite rise, to the occasion. That he makes such circumstances entertaining to us, rather than merely painful, testifies to the novelist’s art . . . This is a novelist who . . . believes like [Evelyn] Waugh that a novel’s purpose is to entertain and to inform, and who is committed to making timely, well-wrought objects of which Before You Know Kindness is a prime example.”

William H. Pritchard
The Boston Globe

“A modern, compelling drama . . . Bohjalian beautifully captures those dizzying moments that follow a tragedy, when disbelief and horror give way to an attempt to understand what has happened . . . authentic. . . haunting . . . For the characters Bohjalian has so tenderly created, kindness offers solace and an opportunity to move forward. In this novel, our eyes are opened to the possibility of redemption, even in these careless times.”

Patricia Conover
San Francisco Chronicle

“A penetrating, often wry and witty examination of ideals, marriage, fatherhood and the family ties that can bind, burn or bless us . . . An intriguing tale of family fragility that pierces with the power of a ‘thirty-ought-six.'”

Carole Goldberg
The Hartford Courant

“Cleverly ironic . . . an irresistible read. Moving from quiet domestic drama to legal thriller, Bohjalian drops us into the perspectives not only of the seven principal members of the McCullough and Seton families but also of lawyers, activists, key witnesses, even, at one moment toward the end, of a crow flying through the woods . . . Deft plotting.”

The Washington Post

“Bohjalian [is] America’s answer to Joanna Trollope . . . Suavely perceptive . . . The finely drawn scenes and characters here will suck in all but the hardest-hearted. Pretty much irresistible.”

Kirkus Reviews

“Nifty . . . Bohjalian has built a rich and complex family drama around a knotty, unanswerable set of questions.”

Entertainment Weekly

[A] many-faceted satire . . . Bohjalian excels at getting inside each character’s head with shifts of diction and perspective . . . his skillful storytelling will engage readers.”

Publishers Weekly

“Chris Bohjalian’s many fans will be glad to know he’s back on the high wire, expertly balancing topical issues with the more timeless concerns of the human heart. His well- drawn, sympathetic characters deepen and intensify the novel’s gripping plot rather than simply serving it. Before You Know Kindness is smart, first-rate storytelling.”

Richard Russo
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize