Do the Windows Open?by Julie Hecht
The beguiling and alienated narrator-who finds nearly everything interesting and almost nothing clear-has set herself the never-ending goal of photographing a/i>/i>
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.
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
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.
- Penguin Publishing Group
- Publication date:
- Sales rank:
- Product dimensions:
- 5.21(w) x 7.78(h) x 0.55(d)
- Age Range:
- 18 Years
Read an Excerpt
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.
"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
- 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?
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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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!
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).
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.