Review of Karen Lillis' WATCH THE DOORS AS THEY CLOSE
Karen Lillis. Spuyten Duyvil Novella Series, $10.00 trade paper (100p) ISBN 9780923389871
In her bittersweet novella about a strained and ultimately failed romantic connection between two young New Yorkers, Lillis successfully eludes the sappiness and excessive sentimentality that sometimes seeps out when writing about love. She accomplishes this with honesty—she takes a hard look at how insecurities can cripple a relationship—and with her smart, disarming prose. Obsessed with the life of a recent former lover, the nameless narrator recounts her time with Anselm, a humble composer with myriad emotional hang-ups that presumably stem from his troubled Appalachian upbringing. Relying on his personal journal and her flawed memories, the narrator grapples to find meaning and closure. It’s a rough road as the reader learns early on that both parties have tendencies to act as foils, drifting past each other too often. “Anselm was good at promises. I was good at hoping for the future, hoping and waiting for his promises to come true.” What’s left for these two stumbling lovers is a collection of moments, some truer than others. The narrator comes across as flawed yet earnest, and in the end it’s Anselm’s credibility and sincerity that are called into question. Whether or not he actually loves the narrator is something that’s constantly on her mind, and also his. At one point he asks: “Do you feel loved by me?” Here Anselm suspects what the reader—and perhaps the narrator—already knows: he exudes poorly. Lillis handles the subject matter gracefully, though readers who like their love stories, tragic or otherwise, brimming with purple romanticism won’t find that here. Watch the Doors as They Close is a sometimes somber, sometimes sweet, sometimes heartbreaking story about impermanence and uncertainty, how a person can really only know him or herself, and how lesser measures of faith in relationships can create shallows unfit for diving. (January, 2012)
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Reviewer bio: Mel Bosworth is the author of the novel FREIGHT. Visit his website at melbosworth.com