Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Review: The Door-Man by Peter Wheelwright

I took a lot of geology classes in college. It was the best option for my science credits since I'm not overly fond of math and am queasy around dissections. Rocks for jocks and all of that; how could I go wrong? Geology turned out to be phenomenally interesting though and I still remember quite a lot from the classes and my professors. One professor in particular maintained that the word dam(n) should always be a four letter word, a pronouncement I kept in the forefront of my mind the whole time I was reading Peter M. Wheelwright's complex and layered historical fiction, The Door-Man.

When a growing New York City of the 1910s and 20s needed more drinking water, the state took land through eminent domain, damming a river, and flooding a town called Gilboa in the Catskills to quench their need. In 1993, New York City doorman Piedmont Livingston Kinsolver tells the tangled story of three generations his family, their roles in the damming of the Schoharie River, and their complicated connections to each other. Kinsolver slowly uncovers the past, revealing long buried layer upon layer both of history and of his family, the locals who tried to save the doomed town, the Italian immigrants who were master stonecutters, the black muleskinners, and the determined women, especially Winifred Goldring, the paleontologist who discovered the famous fossils of the Gilboa trees, fossils from the Devonian Period which saw the beginnings of animal life on earth, and located exactly where the dam would ultimately be built.

Wheelwright mixes fact and fiction in this non-linear novel, the story jumping back and forth through time, following different branches of the family tree as it adds to the truth of the past, much as layers of sediment were laid down over top of the trees that ultimately became the famous fossils. The narrative folds back upon itself, slowly revealing the secrets and truths, the horrors and the surprises of the interconnected families. Wheelwright has included much scientific information on the history of life on earth and the scientific community at the time of the Gilboa fossil discovery but more than a story of science and the ultimate indifference of man, this is a search for all pasts, long distant as well as relatively recent familial past. The pace is slow, even as the tension rises. Like the water finally passing the "Taking Line" in the story, the climax comes almost unremarked save for a few remaining characters. The story touches briefly on class, race, and gender expectations with each of these issues being fully integrated into the narrative of specific characters and subsumed to the larger story of the entangled family, being just a few of the forces that shaped it. This is a thoughtful, literary read, one with hidden depths for the persistent reader.

For more information about Peter M. Wheelwright and the book, check our his author site, follow him on Twitter, or Instagram, look at the book's Goodreads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, look at the reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book, and purchase here.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and publisher National Geographic for sending me a copy of this book to review.

1 comment:

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