Happiness is a horror when you don’t believe you deserve it; so an immigrant learns in Yelena Moskovich’s daring literary novel, A Door Behind a Door.
Olga, who grew up on a struggling Soviet block, now lives in desperate love with beautiful, accomplished Angelina in Milwaukee. Theirs is a relationship that Olga treasures, but feels unworthy of. She does not tell Angelina about her feelings of “anachronistic dread.” She is haunted by memories of a kind woman who was murdered in a vicious, senseless fashion.
Because Olga is used to light disappearing, love and fear occupy equal space in her mind. And then her dread is justified: a three a.m. phone call from Nicky, who committed the murder that stained her childhood, shoulders her with saving her brother, Moshe, from the darkness that may have marked him, too.
Olga and others narrate the tale in evocative, needful micro bursts. But as the book progresses, it seems increasingly likely that the others are part of a bleak fantasy, borne of Olga’s terror. She failed to save her brother once; now, she’s positioned to both spare him from a murder rap and assuage her old guilt. Meanwhile, stabbed women, an ancient dog, and an ethereal, brutal guardian float in and out of her awareness. The murdered woman speaks, expressing empathy for her killer. And as her understanding of life’s fragility, and of the fickle nature of human circumstances, crystallizes, Olga wonders if the darkness that consumed in Nicky and Moshe lives in her, too.
“I know that I am a pure and loveable soul,” Olga insists early in the book—but knowing is not believing, and her salvation is evasive. A Door Behind a Door is an excruciating novel in which love can be undone by stabs of self-doubt.
Michelle Anne Schingler
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