Reviewed by Vera Pereskokova (Luxury Reading)
The Storm at the Door opens with Katharine Merrill – now a grandmother whose memory is starting to blur with the onset of Alzheimer’s – resolving to burn the letters her husband, Frederick, sent while at a mental asylum. We are then taken back about 20 years to hear from Frederick, the new patient at Mayflower Home, an asylum teaming with intellectuals, on the brinks of both brilliance and madness.
Katharine dreamed of a joyful life with the husband she thought she knew, with the man he was before leaving to fight in World War II. To her dismay, that man was no longer. Frederick could lead witty conversations one moment, and descend into erratic mania the next. Katharine kept up appearances, covered for her husband and hoped for the best. However, when his antics lend him in handcuffs, Katharine makes the decision that she believes is necessary for her own sanity and that of her children: to commit her husband to the Mayflower Home mental asylum.
At Mayflower, Frederick resolves to act like himself, to act normal, so as to escape the asylum’s walls as soon as possible. Soon, his surroundings, the ramblings of other patients and the solitude leave him teetering between depression and insanity, unsure of the difference between the real and imagined.
The Storm at the Door is a fictional account based on the author’s, Stefan Merrill Block’s, own grandparents. It is a story of great love and of learning to live with one’s choices, no matter how justified. Katharine believes that she made the right decision, but her conviction does not prevent her from wishing for the life she once had with her husband.
That said, The Storm at the Door was not my cup of tea. It is a well written piece of literary fiction, but is not one that I could enjoy or get interested in. There are many literary books that I absolutely loved and enjoyed, despite the sometimes difficult writing styles. With The Storm at the Door, I could not get through more than three pages without dozing off. Despite the hints at something big to come from the very first pages, I could not master up the interest nor the investment in the characters.
I think The Storm at the Door will appeal to diehards of literary fiction, but will be a difficult sell for the average reader.
The review copy of this book was provided free of any obligation by Random House. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.