The Way Through Doors
Jesse Ball
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Buy *The Way Through Doors* by Jesse Ball online

The Way Through Doors
Jesse Ball
240 pages
February 2009
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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Jesse Ball is a tremendous storyteller. In his second novel, The Way Through Doors, he gives readers the likable Selah Morse, a pamphleteer and municipal inspector who imaginatively winds tale into tale in a valiant effort to keep an unknown young woman awake all night. The young woman (christened “Mora Klein” by Selah), must stay alert for eighteen hours if she is to recover from being hit by a cab and losing her memory. Selah’s stories, radiating in concentric circles to the morning after the accident, are inventive love letters to Mora, and Ball’s readers.

“He arrayed before her all the objects of his hope, all the things he wished had been and were, and so then they became what was real, and not imagined, and he placed his life in the context of hers, and together they drifted, questing, through the half-light, his resourcefulness all that stood between themselves and the devil, sleep.”
A Plimpton Prize winner for his novella The Early Deaths of Lubeck, Brennan, Harp & Carr, 31-year-old Ball is also the author of Samedi, the Deafness, which was shortlisted for the 2007 Believer Book Award and nominated for the VCU First Novelist Award. A published poet and artist as well as an assistant professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Ball writes beautiful, descriptive prose: “Light came through in a vague haze, sifted just beyond the glass by the leaves of the oaks from the street.”

It is clear from the start of the novel that Selah is an accomplished writer as well, with substantial pamphlets to his credit, most particularly one entitled “World’s Fair 7 June 1978.” It reappears throughout the various stories, as do other references (dogs chasing dogs, fiddles being broken), places (Coney Island, an old inn), and people (including Selah himself). At first readers may be frustrated trying to decipher the clues in the various stories or the ultimate meaning in Selah’s narrative, but they should learn from the reoccurring image of a “Dog chasing dog itself chasing dog, but not fast enough,” an apt analogy for Ball’s imaginative account.

Reminiscent of favorite fables from childhood, Selah’s stories are peopled with vivid characters including multiple incarnations of the young woman he has named Mora. Particularly fascinating is the guess artist who accompanies him on the imaginary hunt to uncover her past. Also memorable are the enigmatic Sif, an alter ego for Mora; Count M. and his tender ways with the homely Kolya (comforted by another image of Mora); and, Loren Darius, the gambler who impulsively barters away Ilsa Marionette, his magnificent wife (saved by the ever-present Mora). After all, as the Count muses upon a dream:

“Who can say therefore where a certain person is, for what is it that anchors a person? Is it their place in the story to which you are a part? Many stories hereabouts run side by side, and you cannot be at pains to unpin them…”
Fans of Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union will especially delight in this novel that pushes the confines of traditional plot. Readers of The Way Through Doors should take to heart this advice for Selah:
“The tale is never forward, but always round-about. Your young man must crowd the avenues in his search, and learn to cut doors through pages, through thoughts and guesses.”

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Leslie Raith, 2009

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