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Book Review: The Storm at the Door by Stefan Merrill Block

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The Storm at the Door by Stefan Merrill Block is a fictional book inspired by the author’s grandparents. Mr. Block, while researching his grandparents, imagined a world around them.

When Frederick Merrill leaves his wife Katharine and children to fight in World War II everything seems to be fine. However, over the years as Frederick starts to change, his behavior and moods become dark.

While Frederick struggles with his own inner demons, Katharine struggles to keep up appearances hoping for things to change. However things don’t change, Frederick is committed to a mental asylum and Katharine is left dealing with a difficult life and an unsympathetic society.

I didn’t know what to expect from The Storm at the Door. The book sounded interesting, and it’s about a time period I like to read about, taking place in Boston – a city which I’ve visited several times and intend to visit several times more.

What I got was a lyrical, but haunting, account of the author’s grandparents, Katherine and Frederick, their lives and struggles with his grandfather’s mental illness and his grandmother’ trials and tribulations of surviving not only economically, but also society’s stigma.

Mr. Block’s writing is both sensitive and articulate, detailing the horrors of mental illness institutions and the heavy price spouses and children have to pay. As much as Frederick is suffering in the institution, Katherine’s world of shuttered dreams is also poignant and heartbreaking.

At first it was difficult for me to get into The Storm at the Door. Some of the sentences felt heavy and the prose was too flowery for my personal tastes. However, once I settled into the rhythm and the story the book came together and became very enjoyable.

Block’s elegant but disturbing description of a mental institutions was difficult to comprehend. Not because of the descriptive physical horrors imposed upon the patient — there isn’t much of that. The author, rather, describes the institution as a bureaucratic nightmare, self-important, cold, callous and calculating.

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