Joseph Edwin Haeger reviews A Door Behind a Door by Yelena Moskovich. (Two Dollar Radio)
Yelena Moskovich has again put out a spellbinding novel, twisting through its story like it’s the only possible way to tell it. A Door Behind a Door sinks into a strange tale after a slow burn of normalcy, spiraling into something absurd. And this is the moment we can see how confident and comfortable Moskovich is in her writing—proving she is without a doubt one of the best working writers today.
Olga is getting a second chance in life. She grew up in the Soviet Union, surrounded by strife and pain where daily life was hard, and then got harder when a neighborhood kid, Nicky, killed one of their neighbors. The shadow of this transgression hangs over all the tenants in her building. But Olga eventually gets out and immigrates to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She grows up and meets the love of her life, Angelina, and they begin living a quiet life together. Then, out of the blue, Nicky calls her. Her brother Moshe is in trouble and she’s the only one who can help. This leads her to a diner where she meets Sally and Lisette, who eventually frame her for murder. Olga’s thrown into prison and meets Tanya, who is her hypersexual cell mate.
Every turn in this book reveals stranger characters who pull us deeper into a bleak and unforgiving existence. As we go, we find out more about Olga’s past and we start wondering if karma has anything to do with it. Does she deserve these kinds of things? Or is she just the unfortunate byproduct of a toxic environment?
A Door Behind a Door has a dreamlike quality where the sections are portioned out in these quick and easily digestible moments. This approach took me a minute to get used to because these sections flow so naturally into one another, as if they shouldn’t be broken apart—so they almost feel designed to continually question our focus. It’s like Moskovich is pausing to look up at us and say, “Still with me?”
This is the moment we can see how confident and comfortable Moskovich is in her writing—proving she is without a doubt one of the best working writers today.
The first chunk, “My Angel” spans about 70 pages and is reminiscent of Camus’ The Stranger. Olga finds herself in a hazy situation where she’s placed in prison for murder, and while there’s parts of her that know she doesn’t deserve to be locked up, other parts contradict those beliefs. It’s the ebb and flow of admitting and embracing her responsibilities in life. The sections that follow clear up her past while making the story itself even more confusing (but a good confusing, like a Lynch film).
As the book progresses from the first section, we’re folded into the surrounding characters and, as they’re fleshed out, we see their connections come into focus. We also see how many connections there are and how they all overlap. The inclusion of more characters—including a first-person account from a dog—muddies the narrative, but Moskovich does a great job of pushing the underlying emotional story to the forefront. This is the ultimate hook for Moskovich’s books. She’s giving us these bizarre stories but embedding a deep emotional core into them. I said it about Virtuoso and I’ll say it again here, she’s not simply engaging with the reader on an intellectual level, but also a subconscious emotional one where I don’t feel like I can even articulate it with any real justice.
Many of the characters here are struggling with deep-seeded grief and all the outcomes of hurting others, then falling into a cycle of abuse directly influenced by their past. The beginning and ending of each character is what is fascinating, because Olga, Tanya, Sally, and Nicky are all struggling to nail down the provenance of the pain they’re in, but no one can answer the questions. This is a book of questions with no answers. But I also think that is kind of the point.
It can be helpful to go back to the beginning, but it certainly doesn’t erase the situations and predicaments we find ourselves in. Our why doesn’t excuse our what, but it’s a hell of a start.
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