Do the Windows Open?

Overview

Do the Windows Open? is a series of hilarious linked tales documenting the mania of the modern day in devastating detail-tales that have had readers of The New Yorker laughing out loud for years.

The beguiling and alienated narrator-who finds nearly everything interesting and almost nothing clear-has set herself the never-ending goal of photographing a world-renowned reproductive surgeon, Walden Pond, the ponds of Nantucket, and all the houses ...

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Overview

Do the Windows Open? is a series of hilarious linked tales documenting the mania of the modern day in devastating detail-tales that have had readers of The New Yorker laughing out loud for years.

The beguiling and alienated narrator-who finds nearly everything interesting and almost nothing clear-has set herself the never-ending goal of photographing a world-renowned reproductive surgeon, Walden Pond, the ponds of Nantucket, and all the houses Anne Sexton ever lived in.

On the way, she searches for organically grown vegetables, windows that open, and an endodontist who acts like a normal person. She sometimes compares herself unfavorably to Jacqueline Kennedy, Hillary Clinton, and Princess Diana.

What emerges is a unique sensibility under siege. This is a remarkably original literary performance, one that speaks to anyone looking for the refuge laughter offers from life in an absurd world.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
It's surprising that Hecht, a longtime contributor to the New Yorker and a winner of the O. Henry Prize, hasn't published a book before this. These nine stories are all narrated by the same bracingly neurotic heroine, a 40-ish photographer named Isabelle who has a lot to say on virtually everything from the intricacies of macrobiotic cooking to whether or not her optician is or was a Nazi, the son of Nazis, a neo-Nazi or, at the very least, a Nazi sympathizer. When she's not working on her idiosyncratic photo-essays flowers in decline, reproductive surgeons and their dogs, Isabelle spends an inordinate amount of time chasing down objects essential for her daily life, like organic vegetables and reversible alpaca coats from England. Meanwhile, she keeps up a barrage of exceedingly manic diatribes on such pressing subjects as the greenhouse effect, the passage of time and how annoying Swedish people can be-all expressed in borderline hysterical, impeccably crisp diction, like Miss Manners with the wrong prescription. The best of these stories are hilariously funny, filled with the horrors of modern life bad architecture, traffic jams, the smell of peanuts on the bus and wacky exchanges with her loudmouthed reproductive surgeon, Dr. Loquesto, her careless floor sander, the guy at the Discount Drugs or her neighbors in Nantucket and East Hampton. Some of the stories may remind the reader of a long phone conversation with a batty, obsessed neighbor who doesn't know when to hang up. You may breathe a little sigh of relief when they're over-but then again, her point of view is so entertaining, you can't wait for her to call back. Jan.
Charles Taylor
Not wide enough. Imagine being stuck in a waiting room in which the only thing to read are old copies of "Town and Country" and "The Utne Reader." That's what the experience of making your way through Julie Hecht's collection of interrelated short stories is like. Hecht, whose appearances in "The New Yorker" have earned her a following, sure knows how to maintain a voice. The stories are all narrated by the same character - a late '30s sort-of New Yorker (lives in the Hamptons, summers in Nantucket) who's an odd mix of old-school sophistication and new-age dippiness.

The joke of the collection is the character's paralysis in the face of her mass of phobias and neuroses. Hecht's protagonist seems to be inhabiting a universe of one. In relation to her, even her husband is a distant constellation. At times, the effect is amusing, as if the young Diane Keaton were playing a script written by Fran Lebowitz. "I have to be careful where I go in this town. Because last week I used an obscenity. I actually called out an obscene directive to a clerk in a paint store. I can't believe that I did such a thing ... But I always compare myself to Jacqueline Kennedy whenever my behavior falls short of my expectations, and I know that she would never under any circumstances have used a curse word in public ... Although I did see Princess Radziwill in an organic-food market one June day, and when the item she was searching for was unavailable she said, 'Blast it!'"

But all of Hecht's humor derives from her complete immersion in that voice. It's no mean feat to maintain the precise calibration of that passage over the course of an entire book. It's also a maddening one. After a while, it doesn't matter that Hecht is satirizing this woman, because you're stuck listening to her polite, nervous indecision. The book made me want to scream and brought out the sadist in me: I longed for the woman's worst nightmares to be realized, anything to break the perfectly modulated tone. Reading Do the Windows Open? is like passing someone on the verge of completing a house of cards and being seized by the temptation to puff your cheeks and blow. --Salon

Kirkus Reviews
Hecht debuts with stories woven from seemingly uneventful threads of life that are made as funny, compelling, and rewarding as a reader ever could wish.

The nine pieces' narrator is in her early 40s, married, childless, a sometime resident of New York City now living in East Hampton and summering in Nantucket. Such locales might suggest a white-glove elite, but this character is no such type. Money goes unmentioned, it's true (the husband is a university dean), but Hecht's invariably engaging person is far too timid, droll, and bumbling to be a mover or shaker of much of anything. In "Perfect Vision" (a slow start), she's certain that an optician is an ex- Nazi, while in the much finer title story her fear of driving leads her to ride the "South Fork bus," an experience as richly peopled in its understated modern way as a ride down the river might once have been with Mark Twain. Hecht's heroine is a strict vegetarian ("I knew that the Swedes liked to commit suicide, and if this was their diet, maybe it was the reason") and pursues a career in photography that most recently involves photographing "seven doctors and their dogs," the most prominent doctor being the famous "reproductive surgeon, Dr. Loquesto," who always yells, never opens windows ("A Lovely Day"), and performs a "medical procedure" on his photographer-patient ("I Couldn't See a Thing"), who's not about to reveal exactly what the surgery is, though hints may be hidden in the gorgeously intricate "The Thrill Is Gone" (looking for the source of "My heart leaps up"), or in the melancholy "Were the Ornaments Lovely?" (meeting two strange brothers), or even in "The World of Ideas," with its glance back to the promise of the last century ("But this was the new world. What kind of world was it? It was some other kind of world, and there was no escape").

Droll, intricate, hilarious, sad: a humane, serious, funny, altogether captivating voice.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780140271454
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 2/28/1998
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 837,087
  • Product dimensions: 5.21 (w) x 7.78 (h) x 0.55 (d)

Meet the Author

Julie Hecht's fiction has appeared in The New Yorker and Harper's. She lives in East Hampton, New York in the winter and Massachusetts in the summer. She has been writing stories since she was eight years old.

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Read an Excerpt

INTRODUCTION

 

ABOUT JULIE HECHT

Born in Manhattan, Julie Hecht has been writing stories since she was eight years old. Her fiction has appeared in The New Yorker and Harper's, and she has won an O. Henry Prize. She now lives in East Hampton in the winter and Massachusetts in the summer.

Praise

"Breathtakingly funny. Ms. Hecht is a brilliant comic writer. The laughs are unforced and unmanufactured. The tone is seamless and magnetic and remarkably gentle, even delicate. Complex, trying, engaging and lovable--by the time you finish the book you are hers forever. Enough wit to get us through the end of this century and well into the next." – Elizabeth Frank, The New York Times Book Review

 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  1. Does the narrator of these stories hold contempt for mankind or is she in desperate need of harmony? Is she obsessive, or simply efficient? A hypochondriac, or just overly health-conscious?
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Table of Contents

Perfect Vision 3
Do the Windows Open? 26
A Lovely Day 52
That's No Fun 79
Were the Ornaments Lovely? 102
The Thrill Is Gone 128
I Couldn't See a Thing 149
The World of Ideas 169
Who Knows Why 191
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Reading Group Guide

INTRODUCTION

A Unique Sensibility Under Siege

Do the Windows Open? is a series of hilarious linked tales documenting the mania of the modern day in devastating detail – tales that have had readers of The New Yorker laughing out loud for years.

The beguiling and alienated narrator – who finds nearly everything interesting and almost nothing clear – has set herself the never-ending goal of photographing a world-renowned reproductive surgeon, Walden Pond, the ponds of Nantucket, and all the houses Anne Sexton ever lived in. On the way, she searches for organically grown vegetables, windows that open, and an endodontist who acts like a normal person. She sometimes compares herself unfavorably to Jacqueline Kennedy, Hillary Clinton, and Princess Diana. What emerges is a unique sensibility under siege. This is a remarkably original literary performance, one that speaks to anyone looking for the refuge laughter offers from life in an absurd world.

ABOUT THE TITLE

For several years I was afraid to ride the South Fork Bus. Then one day I rode it. The day itself was over, since I couldn't get my courage up for the afternoon bus to New York, but I did make it to the 7 P.M. For one year I had driven myself back and forth from East Hampton to New York. It had taken me ten years to try this. Then, all of a sudden, after almost mastering it, I could never do it again.

Even when I drove the better but longer way onto the Northern State Parkway and across the Triborough Bridge and down the F.D.R. Drive to get to my apartment in SoHo, the trip was still horrible and I couldn't keep doing it. Once I crossed that bridge at night in a thunderstorm with cars speeding past me on the left and right. But it was the part of the Grand Central Parkway near La Guardia that started to cause the attacks of no breathing. Nothing like the more serious attacks of paralysis of the lungs that occurred when I took the worse route – the Long Island Expressway and the deadly approach to the Midtown Tunnel, with trucks passing on the right and three lanes of headlights coming toward me on the left.

On one of my last trips a single truck caused a severe attack. How could I have thought I could drive among trucks? How many trucks could there be at night? was my reasoning. There could be a whole highway full of trucks at night on the Long Island Expressway, and one of these trucks in front of me had an open cargo, if it could be called a cargo – a load of dust. Dust was its cargo, probably asbestos dust was what it was filled with, and this asbestos dust wasn't packed up in barrels and tied down but simply heaped onto the back and covered with a thin gray sheet. The sheet wasn't even tied down, so it flapped around and the dust was blowing into the air, and there was no way to see through these gusts of asbestos dust.

I'll pass the truck, I thought – because I had learned how to pass with Cosi Fan Tutte playing on the radio for encouragement, but I quickly discovered that I hadn't learned to pass on a curve with no visibility, no matter what opera of Mozart's was on and no matter how loud. I was trying to pass the asbestos truck on the left, I had the signal on, only a few seconds had gone by while I was waiting for a part of the road that wasn't curved. But whenever one came up, the dust would start to blow, and it would be a case of trying to pass into dust through dust to nowhere. As I waited these few seconds with Karl Bšhm conducting, cars began to squeeze in and pass on the right. Couldn't they tell that I was going to pass at the correct moment?

My last trip took place on a rainy night. Although I had listened to the weather reports all day and they had warned of only occasional light rain, heavy rain overtook the road at the safe, wide, empty part east of Manorville. Before I could get into the right lane, a gigantic blue-and-white vehicle roared past, going sixty or seventy, splashing water so that I was completely blinded for several seconds. This vehicle was the South Fork Bus. I thought, It would be better to be on the South Fork Bus than to be passed on the right by it in a rainstorm.

I prepared myself for that first trip on the bus by seeing someone else off. The passenger I chose to see off was my husband. "It's not so bad," I said when I got to see the bus. Nothing is so bad if it isn't summer. The people, the things they have with them, namely, their faces, their bodies, their hairstyles – none of this is so bad in cold weather. But even as I said that it wasn't so bad I noticed that the seats were too close together, and I couldn't help wondering what it would be like to be aboard when the vehicle filled up with human beings and departed from pleasant, tree-lined Main Street. When it got onto the road. Onto the road, with fifty other humans and their paraphernalia. Onto the Expressway. The thought filled me with horror.

My husband didn't mind his time on the bus. He said, "I work, I read, I sleep. It's great – I'm not driving."

I would never be able to work, read, or sleep. I was working on a series of photographs of flowers in decline, and there wouldn't be any plant or flowers on the bus. My other project was to photograph the reproductive surgeon Dr. Arnold Loquesto with his dog, and they wouldn't be on the bus, either. Reading in vehicles caused nausea, and sleeping on a bus on a highway was insane. "Are there seat belts?" I asked my husband.

"No. Why? You mean you're afraid to ride the South Fork Bus?"

"Not afraid. Do the windows open?"

"No. Windows on these new things don't open anymore. Why – you need the windows to open?"

"It would be better if they could be opened."

"Who wants to open the windows on the Long Island Expressway?" he said.

An excerpt from Do the Windows Open?

AUTHOR

Born in Manhattan, Julie Hecht has been writing stories since she was eight years old. Her fiction has appeared in The New Yorker and Harper's, and she has won an O. Henry Prize. She now lives in East Hampton in the winter and Massachusetts in the summer.


PRAISE

"Breathtakingly funny. Ms. Hecht is a brilliant comic writer. The laughs are unforced and unmanufactured. The tone is seamless and magnetic and remarkably gentle, even delicate. Complex, trying, engaging and lovable--by the time you finish the book you are hers forever. Enough wit to get us through the end of this century and well into the next." – Elizabeth Frank, The New York Times Book Review

"Hilarious short stories that focus on the tragicomedy of ordinary life." – Chicago Tribune (Editor's Choice)

"Her slight narratives have a way of bursting into full-blown stories at unexpected moments. They're funny and forceful and, sometimes, truly frightening. Such is the world of Hecht, one of the most original voices in fiction." – San Francisco Sunday Examiner & Chronicle (Editor's Choice)

"She sees and hears everything with delightful, delicious, even delirious, precision." – The Boston Globe

"Hecht has subtly grounded all these remarkably funny and engaging stories in the fundamental sadness of mortality." – Paul Gray, Time

"Triumphs in its unsparing tableau of life." – Newsday

"A pure joy to read." – Seattle Times

"There are too many books published about dysfunctional families, fatuous celebrities, faulty advice, impersonal improvement and scholars contemplating the lint between their toes. What there are not enough of are books that are funny, wise and unique. Thank goodness, then, for Julie Hecht.

A treasure, a book as dense and perfect as a chocolate flourless torte." – Hartford Courant

"Hecht's collection of stories takes dead-center aim at an off kilter society and hits the mark with trenchant wit and a satire that bites, but does not kill." – Nashville Banner

"Hecht's satiric stories are hilarious [and] poignant." – The Commercial Appeal

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  1. Does the narrator of these stories hold contempt for mankind or is she in desperate need of harmony? Is she obsessive, or simply efficient? A hypochondriac, or just overly health-conscious?
  2. Why, do you think, the narrator who so dutifully describes herself to the reader in these stories never reveals her own name?
  3. How would Charles Darwin's "survival of the fittest" theory apply to the passengers on the South Fork bus in the title story? Discuss the microcosm of the bus and how it applies to the society in which we live.
  4. What are the narrator's view on domesticity? How does she regard the role of the husband/father? Wife/mother? How do you account for her numerous visits to Dr. Loquesto, the reproductive surgeon? Why does she feel like a "visitor from another planet" (p. 170) each time she's in another family's home?
  5. When asked to describe life's ultimate goal, the speed-racing Dr. Loquesto replies: "There is no ultimate goal. I have to keep moving" (p. 58). Does the narrator adhere to this philosophy, or does she structure her life in direct opposition to it? How would you characterize the activities and rituals she holds so dear?
  6. The narrator's husband refers to her acquaintances with people as "aimless, futile encounters:" (p. 116). How would you describe the relationships she has with the often-loathsome doctor, the clerk at Discount Drugs, and the driver who responds "that's just it" to everything she says? Are they her "friends?" How are these people necessary for her survival?
  7. In "The Thrill is Gone," the narrator discusses her "loss of enthusiasm for everything" (p. 133). What has led her to this point in her life? What does she want from the world? Can you relate to her desires and discomforts?
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 13, 2004

    Sadly, they don't open!

    Before I would consent to reading this book, I had to read the reviews in the front pages. All, or most, of them said that it was brilliantly funny. While I was actually reading it, having determined it was worth my time, I didn't think it seemed all that funny. But that is the brilliance of the humour- it's so subtle and smooth that it's almost undetectable, which is probably why some thought it was a boring book. But when you pause for a second, you realise the book is halarious! The main character is an insane vegetarian photographer who is on a mission to photograph the world-renouned reproductive surgeon Arnold Loquesto, who is sure that her optometrist is a Nazi, and who seems to have a fixation with royalty (or the closest she can get in New York). I thoroughly enjoyed this book with its calm humour and main character probably only lovable through the book's pages - but lovable indeed!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 7, 2001

    True New Yorker

    Julie Hecht offers a rare, poignant view inside the neurotic brain of a true New Yorker and will satisfy anyone's desire to visit the city's ecclectic blend of art, absurdity and hysteria. Though I wanted more of a novel-like story to bully the short passages into a more cohesive whole, in the end, the short narratives are a more apt reflection of the author's unique, spry, thoroughly enjoyable mind. I've passed along this book already to 3 friends (who I'll encourage to buy it for themselves).

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 24, 2000

    I've read this book five times

    I think people who find these stories too quiet or too musing may be overlooking the point. Hecht's strength is in her discovery of the extraordinary ordinariness of the interior world, and her characters, self-absorbed and un-self-challenging as they are, are both hilariously odd and real. (They want to get out of the box; they just can't.) For anyone excited by the idea of a writer who can build a whole universe of thought around a transaction at the checkout, I fervently recommend this book.

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