THE WALNUT DOOR by John Hersey
Kirkus Star


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Whatever this off-putting tale is trying to say--about manipulated city-dwellers who've retreated behind locked doors, about security as a self-imposed prison--is drowned out by its janglingly trendy trappings and the thunderous vacuity of its jivey Juliet and Romeo. Elaine arrives in New Haven hurting from an affair, determined to start fresh and tough, to ""plate her eyeballs with chrome."" Her bitchy resistance is broken down by narcissistic, pony-tailed Macaboy, the hardselling locksmith-doormaker who grooves on wood and Elaine's ""velvet underground"" voice; he scares her into becoming a customer, mis-installs her burglar-proof, solid walnut door so that she's locked in instead of locking the world out, rips out her phone, brings her meals, sleeps over, and prepares to move in--while already building the door (solid oak) for his next fearful-single-lady conquest. Outline for a nice didactic fable, maybe, but Elaine and Macaboy have pasts--heavy baggage for a fable--which they rake over in such self-pitying father-mother-college-Movement detail that even Elaine says, ""Why do you keep spouting this stuff?"" And why does narrator Hersey spout a strange, self-conscious youthspeak that wavers between parody and embarrassment? (Macaboy gluing wood: ""The jism is still warm between the wooden thighS."") He probably has his reasons, along with more message units than your last phone bill, but it will be the easy-reading, soap-operatic elements and the sturdy byline that open doors for this admittedly singular work from a desperately versatile talent.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1977
Publisher: Knopf