The Way Through Doors [NOOK Book]

Overview

With his debut novel, Samedi the Deafness, Jesse Ball emerged as one of our most extraordinary new writers. Now, Ball returns with this haunting tale of love and storytelling, hope and identity.

When Selah Morse sees a young woman get hit by a speeding taxicab, he rushes her to the hospital. The girl has lost her memory; she is delirious and has no identification, so Selah poses as her boyfriend. She is released into his care, but the doctor ...
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The Way Through Doors

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Overview

With his debut novel, Samedi the Deafness, Jesse Ball emerged as one of our most extraordinary new writers. Now, Ball returns with this haunting tale of love and storytelling, hope and identity.

When Selah Morse sees a young woman get hit by a speeding taxicab, he rushes her to the hospital. The girl has lost her memory; she is delirious and has no identification, so Selah poses as her boyfriend. She is released into his care, but the doctor charges him to keep her awake, and to help her remember her past. Through the long night, he tells her stories, inventing and inventing, trying to get closer to what might be true, and hoping she will recognize herself in one of his tales. Offering up moments of pure insight and unexpected, exuberant humor, The Way Through Doors demonstrates Jesse Ball's great artistry and gift for and narrative.


From the Trade Paperback edition.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

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.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
Surreal tale from Ball (Samedi the Deafness, 2007, etc.), an assistant professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, of a young pamphleteer, a Coney Island guess artist and their joint effort to search for and save an amnesiac woman. Selah Morse, who has just self-published his master-pamphlet, "Worlds Fair 7 June 1978" has, literally through nepotism, been appointed "municipal inspector" with the Seventh Ministry, a Kafkaesque bureaucracy whimsically plunked down in modern Manhattan. His colleagues, boss Levkin and message-girl Rita, toss assignments, wisecracks and enigmas at him with abandon. One day, Selah accompanies a mysterious young woman to the hospital after she's been hit by a taxi. Naming her Mora Klein, he poses as her boyfriend and promises to keep her awake for 18 hours to prevent brain damage and restore her memory. During their vigil at his apartment, Selah recounts stories that double back upon each other and nest like Russian dolls. First, Darius, a lucky gambler, marries beautiful Ilsa but accidentally barters her to a diabolical merchant. At a country Inn, Ilsa encounters Selah and his fellow traveler in the quest for Mora, a guess artist, skilled at divining thoughts. At a Victorian house whose inhabitants can never leave, Selah and sidekick learn about Count M., unfaithful beloved of a Russian empress who punished him by forcing him to marry Kolya, the ugliest of women. Sif, possibly Mora's alter ego, meets Morris, a boy who is a tree climber and far walker. Morris guides Selah down a twisting burrow to a meadow inhabited by a kind couple who are really foxes. Mora won't see Selah until he has come to the Inn "thrice, and by three different paths." Thethird path returns Selah to his apartment, and he and Mora, having survived the night, head to Coney Island to consult a certain guess artist. Although not for readers without patience for experimental fiction, this Jungian house of mirrors offers riches, including fractured fables whose characters occasionally threaten to burst their archetypal bonds. Agent: Billy Kingsland/Kuhn Projects
From the Publisher
“[The Way Through Doors] is disturbingly original. It is a story about the telling of stories, a narrative about narratives. Like The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro, it keeps the reader enthralled by constantly taking the wrong fork in the road. . . . As long as you don't insist on a strictly literal, cause-and-effect universe, the world of this novel–which feels more like a long poem–will mesmerize you. Here, ends are beginnings. Beginnings don't end. And stories are mirrors, eternally facing each other, bouncing off each other, splitting into dozens of oddly shaped pieces, into harmless shards of magic and longing.”
Chicago Tribune

“Readers unfamiliar with [Ball] are in for a treat, for there seems to be no other novelist writing today who is capable of so thoroughly disarming one's narrative expectations. . . . [The Way Through Doors] leaves one awestruck and the unique artistry of its author seems to stand as a paean to the generative, storytelling imagination.”
Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Recalls Borges and Calvino. . . . The constant playful shift in tones and odd characters (including, in one instance, a fiddle-playing dog) blurs the line between dreamlike abstraction and old-fashioned genre writing. . . . Reading [The Way Through Doors] feels a little like stumbling into an M.C. Escher print.”
Chicago Sun-Times

“A delightful prose experiment . . . The Way Through Doors plays with plot and language with an ease and skillfulness we don't often find. . . . [Ball] conjures up a tradition of surreal playfulness on the serious theme of the search for identity and the quest for romance. . . . Ball is a talented new writer whom we ought to watch.”
San Francisco Chronicle

“Lovely. . . . As promising and sweet as a second novel can be. . . . [The Way Through Doors] is written with a flawless, compassionate ear. . . . It's a book for former Narnia dreamers who have read (and liked) a bit of Ben Marcus and grown up without outgrowing the idea that a book should do a person good.”
Los Angeles Times

“Perplexing, insightful, and uplifting, and sometimes all of the above at once. Throughout, [The Way Through Doors] remains consistently engaging.”
Sacramento Book Review

“An ingenious manifesto of the free imagination, a reminder not only of enchantment’s uses, but of how it actually feels. . . . A funhouse of fictions, [The Way Through Doors] is full of sudden doorways, with each room cluttered with the caprices of Selah’s imagination; but it is also a fable, with morals for both Mora and the reader. . . . [Ball’s] virtuosic display of the art of fiction might also serve as a guide to the art of life.”
Boldtype

“A literary Russian nesting doll. . . . Ball is arguably one of the more dynamic young American writers to emerge in the last few years.”
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

“Clever, digressive fiction in which the plot forks and mutates to yield multiple new and sometimes interconnected story lines. . . . It’s easy to be impressed by the tortuous routes Ball’s novel follows as it steps away from and back through the original Selah-Mora narrative.”
Time Out New York

“Unique. . . . Reminiscent of Italo Calvino’s novel If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler in the way it calls upon stories outside the main plot to dig at the truth.”
Time Out Chicago

“In the hands of a talented writer, doors can be a felicitous metaphor, but it is singularly when Jesse Ball takes the door by the knob that ingress becomes pure, prurient flirtation. . . . With a Surrealistic touch and Murakami-esque whimsy, Ball distinguishes himself in his storytelling as a master of doors. The reader is never sure whether a story is on its way in, or out…and all the time, the prose is with such light-handed beauty and wit that it could be a novel by Frank O’Hara. . . . A must-read.”
The Weekly Dig

“[The Way Through Doors] tells its tale through stories within stories, with a precision only a poet could pull off.”
Largehearted Boy

“Labyrinthine and seamless. . . . Ball’s talent as a contemporary fabulist is clearly on display. . . . [His] poetic background is obvious not only in his linguistic precision but in what is left unwritten or speculative. The Way Through Doors is not genre busting, yet it seems to exist on the borderlands of fiction, poetry and the oral tradition. It is a brilliant work that respects and understands the inherent power of story and Ball masterfully creates a world that is familiar, mysterious and utterly captivating.”
Bookslut

“[An] endlessly permutable plot boiler. . . . [A] marvelous, Escher-inflected labyrinth.”
Bookforum

Praise for Samedi the Deafness:

“Everything in the pages of this novel may be in doubt, but Jesse Ball's gifts as a writer are real.”
The New York Times

"Exquisite. . . . A puzzle whose solution is ultimately immaterial to its beauty."
The New Yorker

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307472649
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 2/10/2009
  • Series: Vintage Contemporaries
  • Sold by: Random House
  • Format: eBook
  • Sales rank: 894,305
  • File size: 3 MB

Meet the Author

Jesse Ball (1978-) is an American poet and novelist. He is the author of Samedi the Deafness, released last year by Random House and shortlisted for the 2007 Believer Book Award. His first volume, March Book, appeared in 2004, followed by Vera & Linus (2006), and Parables and Lies (2008). His drawings were published in 2006 in Iceland in the volume Og svo kom nottin. He won the Plimpton Prize in 2008 for his novella, The Early Deaths of Lubeck, Brennan, Harp & Carr. His verse appeared in The Best American Poetry 2006. He is an assistant professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.


From the Trade Paperback edition.
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Read an Excerpt

—Young man, let me look at you.

The room was broad, and lit from behind by massive windows that lined the dark mahogany-paneled wall. Light came through in a vague haze, sifted just beyond the glass by the leaves of the oaks from the street. A large man, my uncle, came around the desk towards me.

I, smiling, nodding, trying to look agreeable. My uncle fatter than he had been. But happy. Fat and happy. That’s the way. An important man in the governing of the city, my uncle had always been far too busy to bother with such as me.

—My boy, you seem well. Not too long, coming down here on the train? There was an accident just yesterday. Someone got pushed.

The way he said it made it sound like the city was a sort of theatrical production.

—Not long, I said quietly. I had my book.

I held up a book. It was a book of letters that desperate Russian poets had sent to an old German poet and he to them during a summer near the beginning of the century. My uncle did not look down at the book, but came around it and slapped me on the back.

—Good, good, he said. (An embrace.)

—You’ve had your hair cut, haven’t you? he asked. Cut with a straight razor, looks like.

—Yes, I said, just now. I do it myself, a couple times a year.

—You use a mirror? he asked.

—No, I said, just a razor and a comb. In fact, I close my eyes.

—Not bad, he said. It’s the old way, isn’t it? Way they used to do it . . . I’d like to see that. Tell me next time, and I’ll send the car.

He gave me another pat, then unhanded me, went back around the desk, and sat down with the air of a man who has often sat down in the presence of others who remain standing.

—I have given your situation some thought, Selah. I understand there was this business in C., and I know it distracted you for a while, but god damn it, man, you’ve got to get yourself together. These scraps of paper . . .

He held up several of my pamphlets. I sat up straight.

—It just won’t do you any good. No conceivable good.

—I . . .

—Enough of that, he said. I have conferred with some old friends and I am going to install you in a position of which I feel you are certainly capable. There is a man I know, Levkin. He’s an odd man, but trustworthy. I think you can gain much from his acquaintance.

He pressed a button behind his desk, and a door on the far side of the room opened. A man came out. He had evidently been waiting there some time, but he gave no sign of it. Nodding to my uncle, he immediately addressed me.

—Selah Morse?

I nodded. A strange-looking man. He was the sort you could never recall anything about afterwards. Featureless. Not that he didn’t have features. He was of a certain height, of a certain weight, etc., but they didn’t add up to anything. He was more of an average weight, an average height. If he left the room, who would remember him?

—This way, please.

He looked at me as I stood there, book in hand.

My uncle nodded.

—I think you’ll find the work pleasant.

Come see me in a week or so. We’ll lunch together. I know a place. . . .

But already I was following the featureless man through the paneling and down a set of stairs.

At the bottom of the stairs there was a passage that let out onto the street. I tried to place it in my memory in case I ever needed to get up to my uncle’s office on the quick. In my head I imagined an enormous house, a mansion I had visited once as a boy. I walked in the front door, along the central hallway. On the right was a room made expressly for telephoning. I entered it, pulled tight the door. Beside the telephone on the nightstand, I placed the idea of this secret entranceway to my uncle’s office. Quietly then I exit first the telephone-room, then the mansion, shutting carefully the doors.

—Call me Levkin, the man said shortly.

I nodded. There was no need to say my name.

I followed Levkin down the block. He had a rapid way of walking with hardly any wasted motion. He turned several times, finally coming to a sort of pocket-park. In the center, a building. We crossed the park, mounted the steps, and entered, he turning in the lock a sort of monkey-faced key.

Within there was a large room. A desk stood opposite the door. On it a girl lay sleeping. She was quite slender, and expensively dressed. She gave one the impression of a cat, insomuch as were one to wake her it seemed she would only stalk off to some other equally unlikely napping place, there to resume her slumber.

I looked at Levkin. He had his finger over his lips. Softly he said:

—That’s Rita, the message-girl.

—Messages for what? I whispered.

—The Seventh Ministry. Municipal Inspection.

He passed on through a left-hand door into a long sort of sitting room. There were tables, chairs, and sofas, as well as a large armoire. He opened it. Inside were a great number of identical suits in various sizes. Identical to the suit he himself was wearing. It was an elegant suit, obviously costly, but very quiet.

—Size? he said.

I reached past him and took the appropriate suit.

—Your office is this way, he said.

We exited the sitting room and proceeded back past Rita, who was now awake and watching us with one of two eyes. I said nothing; she said nothing.

—In here, said Levkin.

Through the right-hand door we went. A hallway led to the back of the house. There was a ladder on one side and a stair on the other. Levkin climbed up the ladder. I followed. At the top, a landing and a door. He opened the door.

—Your office. On the desk, a letter in explanation. Rita may or may not be up soon with your tea.

Levkin did a sort of half bow, and vanished back through the door and down the ladder,  leaving me to survey my new premises. It was a fine room. A very long window ran much of the way along the wall, giving a view out onto the park. A dog was chasing another dog, which was chasing the first dog unsuccessfully. I felt that this meant something. I wrote it down on a pad of paper.

Dog chasing dog itself chasing dog, but not fast enough.

I illustrated the note, took a tack, and pinned it to the wall beside my desk. As I did this, Rita entered and leaned against the wall.

—Dressing up the place? she asked.

—Is that my tea? I asked.

—It can be.

She crossed the room and set the tea down on a small table by the window. With a sigh she threw herself down into a large leather chair and sat watching me.

I shook my head. I picked the suit up, went into the bathroom, and changed into it, slowly and carefully. The experience was enormously pleasing. Never had I been in possession of such a fine suit. It fit perfectly. Pants, shirt, vest. There was even a pocket watch.

Rita entered the room.

—Not bad, she said, and held the suit coat up for me.

I slid it on.

—Milk and sugar, I said. Or, just honey. If you’re going to do something, you might as well . . .

—I’ll write that down somewhere and lose it, she said. The suit fits. Not bad. I imagine you don’t know a thing about what goes on here, do you?

—I know enough, I retorted.

—We’ll see, she said. If you know anything at all, then why do we keep all our clocks three hours ahead?

We went out into the main room. Sure enough, the clock was three hours ahead.

—Well, that’s obvious enough, I said. But I’m busy. Don’t you have something to do?

—Try figuring out why you have . . .

She reached into the sleeve of my suit and pulled a long white handkerchief out of a secret pocket. It was monogrammed: S. M.

—. . . secret pockets in your clothing. Tell me that, buster.

She spun around and left out a different door, one on the far side of the room.

Only after she was gone did I wonder, how had she climbed the ladder with a cup of tea on a saucer? Evidently there was more to Rita than met the eye, though what met the eye was just fine.

Turning back to the desk I found an envelope. Within there was a letter, two days old.

Seventh Ministry 21 July xxxx
Mr. Selah Morse,

Imagine that you are being written to from a place no larger than a gourd. In this gourd, furthermore, the necessary supplies for writing letters do not exist. Therefore, we make do with other mediums. Or perhaps this business of the gourd is a lie, a simple way of beginning a letter that I had hoped I would never have to write. The simple matter is this—up until now there has always been one Municipal Inspector in the city. For there to be two, well, I simply was not prepared for the circumstance to arise. Yet here you are.

I have it on good authority from Rita, the message-girl, that you cannot be trusted with any task, and that we should despair of your ever becoming a useful member of our little cadre. However, at the time of her saying this, Rita was operating under the clever assumption that you were only an idea and not an actual person. The contrary, rather, is the case. You are an actual person, and the work that you have to accomplish here is merely an idea.

Do you understand? We inspect things.  We go about the city and occasionally stir ourselves to inspect virtually anything we choose. Our authority is both unlimited and nonexistent. It operates on a case-by-case basis. On a given day I might have the power to shut down a dam. The next I cannot cause a street vendor to move from off a corner. Vaguer and vaguer! I’m sure you understand now. After all, you were recommended to us as a sly young man. This you had best prove.

Senior Inspector, Seventh Ministry

Mars Levkin

I set the paper down. By the window I found my tea. It was quite cold. In fact, it looked like someone had been ashing a cigarette in it.

—That wasn’t for you to drink, said Rita, opening the door again.

She had a tray this time. On the tray was another envelope, and a cup of tea. She brought it over and set it down gently.

—I’m Rita the message-girl, she said.

—I’ve been told that, I replied.

She adjusted the hem of her skirt.

—Any messages to send? she said.

—Could you tell Levkin that—

—No! she said. Only written messages. What sort of message girl do you think I am?

She stalked off, leaving me with the tea and letter.

I took a sip of the tea. Irish Breakfast, with just the right amount of milk and sugar. Thank you, Rita. I opened the letter.

Seventh Ministry 21
July xxxx
M.I. Selah Morse,

I do hope you’re settling in. Things have been dreadfully strange around here ever since Maude ran away (the gray tabby). I think you are quite handsome and pleasant to talk to, and you mustn’t get the wrong idea about me. I am excited to see if you can do the work, and if you like it. Also, I had a cousin named Selah who died when he was very young. He died right after he learned to read. The doctor said some people aren’t meant to read. No one knows if he was joking or not, but we have to assume so. Was it a funny joke? I have never been in a position to tell. Anyway, good-bye for now,

Rita Liszt, M.G.

Seventh Ministry

I closed the letter and smiled to myself. On an ordinary day, I would be reading in the park or working on one of my pamphlets in my cramped apartment. Was it true? Had I really come up in the world? I inspected my clothing for secret pockets and found several more, including a rather clever one that went all the way down the pant leg, starting beneath a false belt loop. Or, I suppose, the belt loop was a belt loop truthfully. But it also had this other business of being the start of a secret pocket.

HOWEVER, the true business began later, and about that we will now speak.

Several months, perhaps six or nine, had passed since I had begun work as an inspector. I was quite used to my schedule and to my responsibilities. It was late in the day, when afternoon has begun quite visibly to crumple around the edges and one can smell rather than sense that evening will soon be upon us. Quite the opposite is true in winter, when one sees night approaching from afar on spindly noiseless legs. But now it was the spring, and I was heading towards a noodle shop happily situated between a sort of pretend-dadaist gallery and an old movie theater named the Grand Corazon. Whenever I was in that neighborhood I made a point of stopping by the noodle shop.

As I walked, a girl came out of a doorway ahead of me and paused in the street. She was very happy, perhaps as happy as a person could be; one could tell this at a glance. She looked up at the second-story window. It was closed. Presumably she had just come from the apartment to which it belonged. The girl was quite fine-looking, with bare shoulders and a beauty that I have always ascribed to the Han dynasty of ancient China. Not that she was Chinese. No, I didn’t know what she was, Slavic maybe, and elegant.

Out of nowhere, a taxi came speeding. There was a great honking of horns, a shouting. The girl made as though to jump back onto the curb, but instead went the other way, out into the street. With a dreadful thud, the braking taxi smashed full into the girl, sending her flying up into the air to land flat on the pavement some twenty feet away. The whole thing was rather like a geometry problem. Except that one could see immediately how truly injured the girl was, and one oughtn’t to say such things or even think them at such times.

I dropped the brown paper parcel I was carrying and ran to where she lay. One isn’t supposed to lift or move people who have been struck by dynamically heavy and fast-moving objects; however, I couldn’t help but lift the girl off the street. She was completely unconscious. All her gladness had paused a moment.

—Driver! I shouted.


From the Trade Paperback edition.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 10 )
Rating Distribution

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(3)

4 Star

(4)

3 Star

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Sort by: Showing all of 10 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2011

    Escapism At Its Best

    A beautiful little book of fable-like stories, characters and scenes that meld into one another, and shifts in space and time that are both awkward and completely natural at the same time.I can imagine some readers might be put off by the non-linear nature of the story, or maybe consider it "gimmicky" - but for me it worked very well. At it's best, the book not only perfectly captures altered logic of cause and effect that we see in our dreams, but in fact creates a dreamlike state in the reader that lingers for quite some time after putting the book down for the day. That's one of the things I liked best about it, I'd read just a little bit and move on to something else but my mood and outlook was always altered in a rather pleasant way by what I'd read. It makes any kind of surprise more welcoming.Another great aspect of this book is the fact that while it certainly falls under the category of "experimental fiction" in terms of its non-linear plot and characters that seem to exist simultaneously as multiple people at once.. it's still not only easy to read, but has the style and atmosphere of an old world fairy tale. In fact this match between the almost childlike prose associate with fables and the "dream logic" that holds the events together is a perfect combination.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 25, 2011

    Wonderful

    A nesting egg of a book. Stories within stories, showing great imagination and an unconventional narrative. An adventourous read fit for anyone looking for something different but rewarding

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted October 15, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Yuck

    I guess I just like stories that actually sort of make sense and go somewhere. This book did neither. The characters live in some weird alternate reality, and tell stories about another alternate reality, and it's a little hard to tell where one reality ends and another begins. The guy's creepy, the girl makes no sense, and the ending is just weird. Again, if you're into that sort of thing, then you'd probably love this book. Me, I just wanted the time back that I spent reading it.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 7, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    A-Maze-ing

    A veritable maze of a book. Alice in Wonderland meets 1001 Tales of Arabian Nights. A very post-modern book for people that want to read deeply and ponder selfhood, memory, time, and subjective reality. If one is not well read or only likes simple books with a straightforward plotline, this book is not for you. But those that are well read, like a diversity of literature, are more intuitive than sensing, and have an active and imaginitive mind, this book will serve as a wonderful catalyst for provoking and challenging one's perspectives on "reality."

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted June 14, 2009

    Eh...

    If you enjoy long winding and interlocking stories, this is for you. I found that this was to plot driven and not character driven which is what I like. Also, it seemed anti-climactic. I still don't even know if there is a climax. This is a great book for ANALYSIS. If you need to research a book, this is it. The technique is 100% avant garde.

    Side note: The narrator seemed creepy in a stalker way.. quite odd.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted January 23, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Escapism At Its Best

    A beautiful little book of fable-like stories, characters and scenes that meld into one another, and shifts in space and time that are both awkward and completely natural at the same time.<BR/><BR/>I can imagine some readers might be put off by the non-linear nature of the story, or maybe consider it "gimmicky" - but for me it worked very well. At it's best, the book not only perfectly captures altered logic of cause and effect that we see in our dreams, but in fact creates a dreamlike state in the reader that lingers for quite some time after putting the book down for the day. That's one of the things I liked best about it, I'd read just a little bit and move on to something else but my mood and outlook was always altered in a rather pleasant way by what I'd read. It makes any kind of surprise more welcoming.<BR/><BR/>Another great aspect of this book is the fact that while it certainly falls under the category of "experimental fiction" in terms of its non-linear plot and characters that seem to exist simultaneously as multiple people at once.. it's still not only easy to read, but has the style and atmosphere of an old world fairy tale. In fact this match between the almost childlike prose associate with fables and the "dream logic" that holds the events together is a perfect combination.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 19, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted January 1, 2010

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 19, 2010

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