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Book Review: The Way Through Doors Jesse Ball

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In one of my classes not long ago, we were told to write down all our lives' highlights, the types of things we would include in a memoir. Sure I could have written, “got married,” “graduated,” just real common things. But instead, I listed a lot of random moments, like seeing the bottoms of seagulls’ feet through a tarp on a ferry. It’s the small tidbits and pieces of life that make up who I am. And I think the same could go for every person. All we really are is an amalgamation of parts of stories, movies, and perceptions of people and things around us.

This view of identity is not new to award winning author Jesse Ball. His newest work, after Samedi the Deafness, is The Way Through Doors, a mesmerizing book that searches for the meaning of identity through an endless labyrinth of stories centered around the account of a man named Selah Morse. After moving to the city where his uncle lives, Selah takes up the position of inspector for the Seventh Ministry. One day, not long after, he watches a taxi hit a young woman named Mora. When he brings her to the hospital and learns she has lost her memory, Selah poses as her boyfriend and takes on the responsibility of keeping her awake for 18 straight hours. He does this by telling her story after story within which he hopes Mora (and he) will find her identity.

The final tale told is a strange and intriguing one, much like a mix between One Thousand and One Nights and Alice in Wonderland. At times it’s a fairy tale, other times a horror. One story will be absolutely bizarre and the other a tale of tragic love. But through every page, the enchanting magic of Ball’s world never disappears. The way he writes and the images he comes up with are sometimes insane. Many times I felt like I was in a deep sleep with a series of unexplainable dreams flashing before me. It left me with a fantastic feeling in the end, as if the world suddenly had more to offer than once assumed.

The only down side of The Way Through Doors is that there wasn’t enough. Some parts of Ball’s work seemed a little rushed because I wanted to delve further into his characters and stories. The beginning of Selah’s experience as Ministry Inspector is only briefly explained from first person point of view. But when Selah begins his 18 hour narrative, the point of view shifts to third person. Many of the tales during this time end abruptly as they morph into a new one. Sometimes Selah goes back, and sometimes he doesn’t, which is a little disappointing. Also it becomes a little confusing. Unlike One Thousand and One Nights, Ball never returns to Selah’s first person perspective, and at the end, I wasn’t quite sure if I was reading the real end or only the end of Selah’s narrative.

However, apart from this confusion, The Way Through Doors is a beautiful piece. If you enjoy a mix of fantasy and bizarre tales, Ball’s work is absolutely mesmerizing. Anytime I was forced to put this book down, I continually thought about it and relayed short pieces to my family. It has a way of penetrating your mind and filling it with enchanting images that could only come from Jesse Ball.

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About Janica Unruh