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The Way Through Doors (Vintage Contemporaries) Paperback – February 10, 2009


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Product Details

  • Series: Vintage Contemporaries
  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Original edition (February 10, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307387461
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307387462
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.2 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #217,205 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. The search for a stranger's history leads down a narrative cul-de-sac in Plimpton Prize–winner Ball's accomplished and clever second novel (after Samedi the Deafness). When pamphleteer Selah Morse witnesses a taxi run down a young woman, he takes her to the hospital and, in telling the staff that he is her boyfriend and that her name is Mora Klein, is given custody of her. She is amnesiac, and his orders are to reconstruct her memories through story. The book then begins anew, and the narrative folds in upon itself again and again, launching in new directions and each time leaving the earlier story incomplete. Throughout, Morse searches out Mora Klein's identity, picking up other travelers along the way, among them a Coney Island mind reader; a doting husband who may or may not have made a deal with the devil; a love interest for Morse fascinated by the pamphleteer's opus; and a fiddle-playing dog. Though literal-minded readers may struggle to follow Morse's arc as the stories converge and he slips deeper into layers of story, Ball's skill with language and delight in comic absurdity make this an immensely enjoyable, brain-busting experience. (Feb.)
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From The New Yorker

In an inversion of the Scheherazade legend, the hero of this dizzyingly circuitous novel must tell stories all night to a beautiful amnesiac, to keep her awake and alive. He begins by explaining himself: he writes pamphlets (sample title: �An Inquiry into the Ultimate Utility of the Silly, as Prefigured in the Grave and Inhospitable�) and works as a municipal inspector, in an office reachable only by ladder. His stories dissolve, unfinished, into other stories; characters�including a �guess artist� who reads minds with a thirty-three-per-cent accuracy rate, a girl who accepts only written communications (preferably typed), and a spurned Russian empress who forces her former lover to marry �the ugliest of women��vanish and resurface; and reality is generally given the heave-ho. It�s a thrilling ride through an alternative New York (think Steven Millhauser on acid), where the tallest building extends hundreds of feet below ground and cabbies are paid in gold doubloons.
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More About the Author

Jesse Ball is the author of numerous prize winning works of fiction and poetry. 2011 will bring a novel, The Curfew, from Vintage, and a collected verse/prose omnibus, The Village on Horseback, from Milkweed Editions. He lives in Chicago.

Customer Reviews

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I will read it over & over & over again.
lady e
Ball might be the most inventive author at work today and this book demonstrates his full power.
J. Smallridge
It is a series of stories set inside stories, like a Matryoshka doll or the layers of an onion.
Zach Powers

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By A. Ross HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 11, 2009
Format: Paperback
If you like fiction in which stories are nested within each other, tumbling and turning inside and out like a narrative mobius strip -- well, this is the book for you. But if you're someone who prefers realism, a classic three-act narrative arc, characters with depth, and all the trappings of "normal" fiction -- well, you're probably not going to like this.

The book's almost pointless framing device occurs when a young man in a New York-like metropolis of indefinite period sees a young woman knocked down by a taxi. He takes her to the hospital, where she lies in a coma, and the doctors tell the young man he must keep her mind occupied for 18 hours by talking to her. Thus, he starts spinning a tale, although it rather quickly becomes questionable as to whether he's telling stories, or stories are telling him.

It's all rather clever and tricksy in a McSweenysesque manner: the young man is a "pamphleteer" and the stories introduce the reader to all manner oddities, such as the tallest building in the city (which is actually subterranean and may actually be a foxes den), an inn with a fiddle-playing dog, a mind-reading companion of remarkable acuity, a girl who is born with the ability to draw a line straighter than any device known to man, the world's luckiest gambler, and so on. Just to give a taste, this is the kind of book where a man's job comes with authority that is "unlimited and nonexistent." If you find that kind of phrase compelling, you might well enjoy the book.

It's an interesting world, but one so topsy-turvey that you can't really try and make sense of it, you just need to let the writing wash over you. There are lots of nice turns of phrase, and the author clearly has style to burn. The question is whether or not it adds up to anything by the end.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By mgspeed on November 10, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Not so much a book as a series of little poems seamlessly woven together into a novel. Although the characters are consistent, you will often find that everything else is subject to question. Imagine the strange world of Willy Wonka, and then turn it on it's head, make it 10 times weirder, and give it literary credibility. This book will make your strangest, most incoherent dream seem as rote as 8th grade history class.

If you like a nice solid story with everything wrapped up and packaged then please spare yourself the agony of this book.

If you enjoy stream of consciousness, and don't mind walking dogs, and stories that shift location in mid-paragraph, then you will likely enjoy this book.

Easily one of the most engaging and fascinating reads in a long, long, time.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By W. Edwards on March 20, 2009
Format: Paperback
Jesse Ball's second novel with Vintage may confuse and frustrate some. I daresay this is of no import to Mr. Ball, though I could be mistaken. Indeed, there is a care for both the characters and the reader in this book, accompanied by an understanding that not all may find the book as engaging or enjoyable as others.

I'll spare you a recounting of events and names found within in favor of attempting to convey the experience of reading The Way Through Doors. As with his previous book, this one makes reality seem blurry. In fact, it is handily placed out of reach as if to say, "you need not be concerned with this, dear reader. Please join me for the experiences and playfulness I hope to share with you." In this sense reading any work by Ball requires a sort of trust and submission to the story. Obviously, only through the reader's agency to engage the text in the first place does the book take on life, but one's expectations should be checked upon opening the book; any preconceptions should be vanquished. Why such hyperbole? Because the thread of this book may not even end up being a thread! It may end up a web, and if the reader struggles or resists it may entrap and cause discomfort. If the reader relaxes into it, the web serves nicely as a hammock of sorts, though dozing off is strictly prohibited; one must pay full attention to the swirls of characters and events moving throughout the web. Some of these swirls are more brightly-colored than others, though any number of these will make an imprint on your psyche and linger as pleasant images in the mind's eye.

There is a playful nature to Ball's writing, though you may find it manifesting as glee in one example, and shortly after it may emerge very dire and obfuscated, like reveling in the macabre.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Zach Powers on August 14, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is one of the most amazing books I've ever read. I don't even know how to describe it. It is a series of stories set inside stories, like a Matryoshka doll or the layers of an onion. There are no seams between the stories - one flows into the next, and the protagonist's quest creates not a plot but a sense forward motion. Each section of the novel, before any climax can be reached, branches off into another, new "plot," but these nested stories continue telling the story of the original set of characters, giving the impression of weaving more than writing, where a single thread reappears in the fabric unexpectedly, far from the last place one noticed it. The Way Through Doors is a novel of pure feeling and pure thought that, through the deftness of the author, manages to be engaging at the same time.

I loved Jesse Ball's last book, Samedi the Deafness, bit this is his masterwork, and it will certainly become one of the books against which I judge contemporary literature. I would put it in my top ten favorite books, maybe higher.
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