Review of Watch Doors As They Close, by Karen LillisBy Lavinia Ludlow
June 11, 2012
“What is abuse? Someone with an upper hand taking advantage of it over a more vulnerable someone, usually exactly where there should have been intimacy, trust, love instead.” – Unnamed Narrator — Watch Doors as They Close
Spuyten Duyvil Novella Series recently unleashed an-anti love story called Watch Doors as They Close by Karen Lillis. Set in New York City, this novella is a common tale told in an uncommon fashion about an “ended before it began” relationship which was strained and then destroyed by the behavior patterns of a manic-depressive named Anselm.
Ultimately, this tale sheds a floodlight on what it’s like to love someone who is too far gone in his own psychosis to be loved, or love in return: “Anselm’s back is broad enough to make it feel like I was facing a mountain of back, it’s hard to feel like I could envelope that. It’s like when he was in that position, I felt I was being asked to embrace someone who was turning away from me, even though I knew, consciously, that this was not the case.”
Lillis breaks up the book with through the use of journal entries dated over a few weeks wherein an unnamed narrator reflects on her short and painful affair with Anselm, a man made up of mostly impulse and selfish intentions: “He wanted to please a woman in order to conquer her, not in order to open her up, expand her desires.”
Initially, I found it easy to judge Anselm as a self-absorbed womanizer ridden with trust issues, but as the text wore on, I realized his behavior patterns may have been a result of his tumultuous background: his father committed suicide and he is emotionally abused by his overbearing mother: “And some things started to make sense. Like why his mother was obsessed with the question of suicide—Anselm said, it would be a scene something like, an ad or a news item about suicide would appear on the television as they were sitting there watching it together, and suddenly his mother would hit him and start yelling at him: “Don’t you ever kill yourself, do you hear me!?!”
From start to finish, I could feel the potency of the protagonist’s obsession. Anselm led this girl, or perhaps she passively allowed him to lead her through the classic abuse cycle. She dropped deeper and deeper into emotional ruin, so weakened with obsession that she dismissed fears of him being a psychopathic killer. Deep down, she knew a future with Anselm was unrealistic and no amount of “love” could fix someone so dysfunctional and antisocial; yet, she continued to pursue him.
Despite the evident dysfunctional bond between the lovers, I found the novella’s tormented entries beautiful and poignant. Lillis has a way of conveying heavy emotions with the simplest words: “It’s true, I didn’t have the kind of patience he was asking of me. Not inherently, but contextually: The relationship he offered me didn’t inspire the kind of patience he asked of me.”
My only criticism is the overabundance of characters introduced in the first few pages. After a while they all sounded the same; everybody was sleeping with Anselm in secret or publicly. Lillis also occasionally made list-like descriptions as if I was sitting with her in a café as she narrated, “let me tell you about my friend, here’s how it started, here’s how it is now and how I think it will end,” and at times this presentation style seemed to drag down the narration.
Overall, Lillis has paired the ordinary storyline of a dysfunctional relationship with her eccentric writing style, and together, they work wonders for the underlying goal of the novella. One of the finest pieces of independent contemporary literature of 2012, Lillis has broken the mold of the classic New York City love story.
Watch Doors as They Close uncovers one woman’s fight to the emotional death after which she realizes that sometimes love feels no different than an upper followed by a bad crash.
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