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With his debut novel, Samedi the Deafness, Jesse Ball emerged as one of our most extraordinary new writers. Now, Ball returns with this haunting tale of love and storytelling, hope and identity.

When Selah Morse sees a young woman get hit by a speeding taxicab, he rushes her to the hospital. The girl has lost her memory; she is delirious and has no identification, so Selah poses as her boyfriend. She is released into his care, but the doctor charges him to keep her awake, and to help her remember her past. Through the long night, he tells her stories, inventing and inventing, trying to get closer to what might be true, and hoping she will recognize herself in one of his tales. Offering up moments of pure insight and unexpected, exuberant humor, The Way Through Doors demonstrates Jesse Ball's great artistry and gift for and narrative.


From the Trade Paperback edition.
Published: Random House Publishing Group on
ISBN: 9780307472649
List price: $11.99
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This really deserves a high four stars and a part of me was tempted to give it five. It is wildly creative with a preposterous sort of energy that recalled a post-modern version of Italo Calvino's If On a Winter Night a Traveler. This is the first of Jesse Ball's books I've read but I felt like I was skipping through time, galavanting through characters, memories, stanzas, and thoughts. This is one imaginative far reaching tangential adventure. I'm pretty sure this novel will be one of those I come back to many times in my life and, because it is short enough to read in a day, it will be great for a pick me up when I'm looking for reassurance that modern literature is truly worthwhile.

I could write quite a bit about the book but I think my favorite quotes will give an even better idea and it will likely take me a great deal of time to type them all out.

Pages are not marked in typical format but lines are numbered in a somewhat random way.

Between 85-90 "With a dreadful thud, the braking taxi smashed full into the girl, sending her flying up into the air to land flat on the pavement some twenty feet away. The whole thing was rather like a geometry problem."


120-125 "Her voice was very fitting. It sounded like the comforting noises that faraway things make in morning."


280-285 "Slowly, I began to understand what was expected of me. We were a randomizing element in the psychology of the city. We were the practical element of the philosophy that all parts in a system should not react the same way."


625-630 "...when you are a child, somewhere between two and four years of age, a night comes that you have a dream. In that dream you dream your entire life, from start to finish, with all its happinesses, its disappointments, its loves, its hates, its pains, its joys. Your entire life. The dream should have to last an equivalent amount of time, but somehow it happens in just one night...Most people forget their dream. In fact, everyone forgets most of it. However, I was a very precocious child. That morning I was left alone by myself with a large sheet of paper and a bucket of crayons. While my dream was still fresh in my head, I constructed a map of my life, using symbols and writing down what I could. Somehow I realized that to write too much would ruin it, and would make me sad in the end. Therefore, what I wrote down were mostly clues as to how to manage the difficult parts."


840-845 "You're thinking, said the guess artist, that this whole business of there being only seven days to the week is a big lie, and tat there are actually eight, but that one is hidden, and that if you can discover it, your life is lengthened by that exact proportion, but better even that that, you bet one day a week when only the people in the know are out and about, and it is on that day that all the best conversations happen."


850-855 "One more thing, said Sif. You don't get the canary until you tell me what he's thinking. And don't lie, because I can tell when people are lying...He looked intently at the canary. Then he reached out and rattled the cage a little. The canary leapt from one spot in the cage to another. The guess artist began to cry...I refuse to tell you what he's thinking. It's too sad. Nothing so sad has ever been said out loud."

975-980 "...how could a person wander into a novel? It must be a dream. Then realizing that I was in a dream, all became possible."


1290-1295 "By this she meant in her heart that all the useless things one remembers well just before waking and forgets just after were in fact very important and perhaps all that stood now between herself and oblivion."


1310-1315 "It seems we must go downstairs in order to go upstairs, he said. In fact, I drew a staircase and pushed so hard with the crayon that the paper is broken. It doesn't say anything about a malachite door."


...

"What I like best, said the guess artist, is when at Coney Island on the boardwalk at the farthest distances of the sea come up very close and quietly to the edge of the sand to surprise me. HELLO, they say, and I greet them with a small shyness of smiling and inclining of my hand. Also, then the slanting of the light in deference to the occasion and the sudden and impulsive gladness of the bathers. Naturally, they are insensible to the reason for this business of the waves and myself and the sunlight. However, the effect always supersedes rationale, and they themselves, basking in the junction of the various elements, grow large in the world's esteem and are therefore suffused with the pleasure that is at the core of the sweetest and most delectable fruit."


1405-1410 "Such a wide ad never-ending stair, said the guess artist, is in danger of ceasing to be a stair to become instead a metaphor of some kind or even an allegory."


1580-1585 "For the total knowledge , the knowledge of all that may be in the world, is the knowledge of one's death and the world's continuing. That knowledge does not give. It takes away, removing from one peace of mind and fealty of thought. No, the greatest gift is in partiality And so, from these trees we gain the power to speak lies, to say things that are not true and place them delicately into the minds of those we would conquer."


1620-1625 "If you don't think of me at least once each day, then I will disappear entirely and no one will ever see me again."


1635-1640 "Mora Klein was one of the true phenomena of twentieth-century art. Born in obscurity in North Face, in Barrow, Alaska, in the 1970s, she made her first mark at the age of four, when it was discovered that she could draw a straight line. As it was the first documented case of a human having the ability to draw a straight line, she gained instant fame."


1750-1755 "I wonder what would happen, he thought, if a child stared at Darger artwork the entire time he was growing up. Would he be able to do a strange mathematics that no one had ever conceived? Or would he just become very good at helping little girls who were engaged in child-slave rebellions?


1810-1815 "We laughed when we were told that we would one day lose our skin and become piles of bones that had no laughter in them. And we knew too this was a lie, for once a thing has happened once, it cannot be stopped from happening again and again. Events are continuous, not broken, and they never move on. Stories tell themselves one to another, over and over, never ceasing, and we skip here and there, saying this is consciousness, this acrobatic feat, but what of remaining?"


more
Like a long dream in which every piece is connected and makes perfect sense, even when it really makes no sense at all. And just as fleeting and ephemeral as a dream, yet not forgettable in the slightest.more
This is a very difficult book to review. The story itself is very short, nearly non existent and is only there to give a frame for the real purpose of this book: the story telling. Imagine Russian dolls, you open one and find another, again and again - that is this book. One story leads to the next and the next and the next.... without ever really finishing. The storyteller tells of a character who tells stories about some story teller...and so on. This tales are told dreamlike, poetic, beautifully woven, intricately patterned and in the end you know no more than at the beginning, but a huge sense of beauty is left with you. The main characters of this novel turn up in most stories having the most wondrous adventures, meeting the strangest characters, finding the most impossible locations and bit by bit you get to know them, nearly. Amazing little book this is.more
A beautiful little book of fable-like stories, characters and scenes that meld into one another, and shifts in space and time that are both awkward and completely natural at the same time.I can imagine some readers might be put off by the non-linear nature of the story, or maybe consider it "gimmicky" - but for me it worked very well. At it's best, the book not only perfectly captures altered logic of cause and effect that we see in our dreams, but in fact creates a dreamlike state in the reader that lingers for quite some time after putting the book down for the day. That's one of the things I liked best about it, I'd read just a little bit and move on to something else but my mood and outlook was always altered in a rather pleasant way by what I'd read. It makes any kind of surprise more welcoming.Another great aspect of this book is the fact that while it certainly falls under the category of "experimental fiction" in terms of its non-linear plot and characters that seem to exist simultaneously as multiple people at once.. it's still not only easy to read, but has the style and atmosphere of an old world fairy tale. In fact this match between the almost childlike prose associate with fables and the "dream logic" that holds the events together is a perfect combination.more
Read all 5 reviews

Reviews

This really deserves a high four stars and a part of me was tempted to give it five. It is wildly creative with a preposterous sort of energy that recalled a post-modern version of Italo Calvino's If On a Winter Night a Traveler. This is the first of Jesse Ball's books I've read but I felt like I was skipping through time, galavanting through characters, memories, stanzas, and thoughts. This is one imaginative far reaching tangential adventure. I'm pretty sure this novel will be one of those I come back to many times in my life and, because it is short enough to read in a day, it will be great for a pick me up when I'm looking for reassurance that modern literature is truly worthwhile.

I could write quite a bit about the book but I think my favorite quotes will give an even better idea and it will likely take me a great deal of time to type them all out.

Pages are not marked in typical format but lines are numbered in a somewhat random way.

Between 85-90 "With a dreadful thud, the braking taxi smashed full into the girl, sending her flying up into the air to land flat on the pavement some twenty feet away. The whole thing was rather like a geometry problem."


120-125 "Her voice was very fitting. It sounded like the comforting noises that faraway things make in morning."


280-285 "Slowly, I began to understand what was expected of me. We were a randomizing element in the psychology of the city. We were the practical element of the philosophy that all parts in a system should not react the same way."


625-630 "...when you are a child, somewhere between two and four years of age, a night comes that you have a dream. In that dream you dream your entire life, from start to finish, with all its happinesses, its disappointments, its loves, its hates, its pains, its joys. Your entire life. The dream should have to last an equivalent amount of time, but somehow it happens in just one night...Most people forget their dream. In fact, everyone forgets most of it. However, I was a very precocious child. That morning I was left alone by myself with a large sheet of paper and a bucket of crayons. While my dream was still fresh in my head, I constructed a map of my life, using symbols and writing down what I could. Somehow I realized that to write too much would ruin it, and would make me sad in the end. Therefore, what I wrote down were mostly clues as to how to manage the difficult parts."


840-845 "You're thinking, said the guess artist, that this whole business of there being only seven days to the week is a big lie, and tat there are actually eight, but that one is hidden, and that if you can discover it, your life is lengthened by that exact proportion, but better even that that, you bet one day a week when only the people in the know are out and about, and it is on that day that all the best conversations happen."


850-855 "One more thing, said Sif. You don't get the canary until you tell me what he's thinking. And don't lie, because I can tell when people are lying...He looked intently at the canary. Then he reached out and rattled the cage a little. The canary leapt from one spot in the cage to another. The guess artist began to cry...I refuse to tell you what he's thinking. It's too sad. Nothing so sad has ever been said out loud."

975-980 "...how could a person wander into a novel? It must be a dream. Then realizing that I was in a dream, all became possible."


1290-1295 "By this she meant in her heart that all the useless things one remembers well just before waking and forgets just after were in fact very important and perhaps all that stood now between herself and oblivion."


1310-1315 "It seems we must go downstairs in order to go upstairs, he said. In fact, I drew a staircase and pushed so hard with the crayon that the paper is broken. It doesn't say anything about a malachite door."


...

"What I like best, said the guess artist, is when at Coney Island on the boardwalk at the farthest distances of the sea come up very close and quietly to the edge of the sand to surprise me. HELLO, they say, and I greet them with a small shyness of smiling and inclining of my hand. Also, then the slanting of the light in deference to the occasion and the sudden and impulsive gladness of the bathers. Naturally, they are insensible to the reason for this business of the waves and myself and the sunlight. However, the effect always supersedes rationale, and they themselves, basking in the junction of the various elements, grow large in the world's esteem and are therefore suffused with the pleasure that is at the core of the sweetest and most delectable fruit."


1405-1410 "Such a wide ad never-ending stair, said the guess artist, is in danger of ceasing to be a stair to become instead a metaphor of some kind or even an allegory."


1580-1585 "For the total knowledge , the knowledge of all that may be in the world, is the knowledge of one's death and the world's continuing. That knowledge does not give. It takes away, removing from one peace of mind and fealty of thought. No, the greatest gift is in partiality And so, from these trees we gain the power to speak lies, to say things that are not true and place them delicately into the minds of those we would conquer."


1620-1625 "If you don't think of me at least once each day, then I will disappear entirely and no one will ever see me again."


1635-1640 "Mora Klein was one of the true phenomena of twentieth-century art. Born in obscurity in North Face, in Barrow, Alaska, in the 1970s, she made her first mark at the age of four, when it was discovered that she could draw a straight line. As it was the first documented case of a human having the ability to draw a straight line, she gained instant fame."


1750-1755 "I wonder what would happen, he thought, if a child stared at Darger artwork the entire time he was growing up. Would he be able to do a strange mathematics that no one had ever conceived? Or would he just become very good at helping little girls who were engaged in child-slave rebellions?


1810-1815 "We laughed when we were told that we would one day lose our skin and become piles of bones that had no laughter in them. And we knew too this was a lie, for once a thing has happened once, it cannot be stopped from happening again and again. Events are continuous, not broken, and they never move on. Stories tell themselves one to another, over and over, never ceasing, and we skip here and there, saying this is consciousness, this acrobatic feat, but what of remaining?"


more
Like a long dream in which every piece is connected and makes perfect sense, even when it really makes no sense at all. And just as fleeting and ephemeral as a dream, yet not forgettable in the slightest.more
This is a very difficult book to review. The story itself is very short, nearly non existent and is only there to give a frame for the real purpose of this book: the story telling. Imagine Russian dolls, you open one and find another, again and again - that is this book. One story leads to the next and the next and the next.... without ever really finishing. The storyteller tells of a character who tells stories about some story teller...and so on. This tales are told dreamlike, poetic, beautifully woven, intricately patterned and in the end you know no more than at the beginning, but a huge sense of beauty is left with you. The main characters of this novel turn up in most stories having the most wondrous adventures, meeting the strangest characters, finding the most impossible locations and bit by bit you get to know them, nearly. Amazing little book this is.more
A beautiful little book of fable-like stories, characters and scenes that meld into one another, and shifts in space and time that are both awkward and completely natural at the same time.I can imagine some readers might be put off by the non-linear nature of the story, or maybe consider it "gimmicky" - but for me it worked very well. At it's best, the book not only perfectly captures altered logic of cause and effect that we see in our dreams, but in fact creates a dreamlike state in the reader that lingers for quite some time after putting the book down for the day. That's one of the things I liked best about it, I'd read just a little bit and move on to something else but my mood and outlook was always altered in a rather pleasant way by what I'd read. It makes any kind of surprise more welcoming.Another great aspect of this book is the fact that while it certainly falls under the category of "experimental fiction" in terms of its non-linear plot and characters that seem to exist simultaneously as multiple people at once.. it's still not only easy to read, but has the style and atmosphere of an old world fairy tale. In fact this match between the almost childlike prose associate with fables and the "dream logic" that holds the events together is a perfect combination.more
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