Review: Watch the Doors as They Close by Karen Lillis

Fascination with a failed love is a surgical experience. Some chemical tide turns and the tedium of pulling the stitches apart is irresistible. That something so ineffable could be made up of the kinds of things one can list and turn over and stack and compare begs vivisection in that state of mind. If the reader of Watch the Doors as They Close, Karen Lillis’ new novella from Spuyten Duyvil Press, has ever failed at love, that reader will find the most artisanal empathy therein. Watch the Doors is a young bookseller’s rhapsodic recollections of love with a man who could not quite hold it together.

The story takes place in New York City, and Karen Lillis handles the city’s presence with the considerate touch of a long-time resident. Failed love in New York could so easily become unbearably histrionic but here its invocation as a setting adds to the overall feel of the ephemeral. When one is uncontrollably shoved along, stuck on the other side, watching the doors as they close, little salves like the impulse to put things in order. New York City also exists in opposition to rural Pennsylvania, the frequently referenced site of Anselm’s — Anselm Vaughn Brkich-David, the obscure object’s — childhood, which creates for anyone who has ever found themselves associated with either place for stretches of time the definitive externalization of being bipolar.

What do I really know about Anselm? Only what he told me. I never met anyone who could give me a context for him, flesh out his existence. There were no coworkers to meet, we never ran into his friends, his mother never answered the phone. There was no place I could go and see Anselm living his life without me, like a job or a school or even an apartment. This was it. My four walls and our two faces and the stories he was constantly telling me….Well, of course there was Sophie’s. How could I forget. I met his drinking chums — the guys who happen to be fixtures at a bar he frequented. It’s about as useful as saying I met six of his favorite barstools.

Watch the Doors is diaristic, a catalog maintained in real-time by a girl whose days are passing. She spends her days retreading over his manic-depression, his astrological qualifications (Cancer with a moon in Pisces), his likes and dislikes, his immigrant relatives, composing an infinity of Anselm. What ‘knowing a person’ consists of and how a character is assembled are my central fascinations in literature and those issues are present in the book, but they are only present under the total sway of infatuation. Lillis captures that kind of spell – the clinical trance – so completely that that experience is really what the book consists of, to the exclusion of everything, but that is precisely the phenomenon that she is depicting: the way this negation consumes everything, even what a book about it should be. For its adherence to this phenomenon in which people feel so fixedly alone, Karen Lillis has achieved something, and Watch the Doors as They Close will serve to make people marooned in their own solitude feel less alone in their impulse towards the infinity of their love.

Publisher: Spuyten Duyvil Press
ISBN: 978-0-923389-87-1
Binding: Paperback, eBook
Price: $10.00 Paperback, $0.99 eBook

Kari Larsen is an assistant editor of Anobium. Her chapbook, Say you’re a fiction, is forthcoming in the summer of 2012 from Dancing Girl Press. Updates on other publications can be found at Cold Rubies.

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