Monday, March 14, 2022

The Door-Man by Peter M. Wheelwright

The Door-Man
 by Peter M. Wheelwright
388 Pages
Published February 2022 by Fomite

Publisher's Summary: 

In 1917, during the construction of a large reservoir in the Catskill hamlet of Gilboa, New York, a young paleontologist named Winifred Goldring identified fossils from an ancient forest flooded millions of years ago when the earth’s botanical explosion of oxygen opened a path for the evolution of humankind. However, the reservoir water was needed for NYC, and the fossils were buried once again during the flooding of the doomed town.

A mix of fact and fiction, The Door-Man follows three generations of interwoven families who share a deep wound from Gilboa’s last days. The story is told by Winifred’s grandson, a disaffected NYC doorman working near the Central Park Reservoir during its decommissioning in 1993.

The brief and provisional nature of one’s life on earth – and the nested histories of the places, people and events that give it meaning – engender a reckoning within the tangled roots and fragile bonds of family.

My Thoughts:
“I am only a door-man, one of many along Central Park West. No one suspects that it is my considered choice.”
Piedmont Livingston Kinsolver calls himself the third, although his father was not Piedmont, just Livingston, and his grandfather was not really Piedmont but Bramlett. And that is just the beginning of where the family tree that Wheelwright has included comes in handy. Within the first fifty pages I'd probably referenced that tree almost as many times, trying to keep track of the players and their relationships. Which ought to give you a good idea that this book is not one that readers will race through; you'll need to pay attention - to the characters, to the movements in time, to the history and the true facts, to the science. 

The oldest fossilized trees
in the world in present-day
Besides finding myself going again and again to that family tree, I also found myself going again and again to the internet to verify which of Wheelwright's details were fact and which were fiction. Was it true that in 1917 The Star-Spangled Banner was still, more than 100 years after it was written, still largely unknown? Yes, indeed - Woodrow Wilson had only the year before signed an executive order declaring it the national anthem. Did the city of New York flood the town of Gilboa, despite having better options for moving water from the mountains to the city, covering up evidence of the earliest plants and animals on the planet? Yes, it did. And that's where Wheelwright's novel took it's beginning. 

Now how to develop a story around that that is not just a work of historical fiction. Enter the multi-generational, sweeping history of those earliest plants to the end of the reservoir that caused them to be erased from view. As I was reading I kept thinking of Richard Powers' The Overstory, with its interlaced stories and emphasis on science. As I did with that one, I did sometimes find the science (and, more specifically, the places it takes Wheelwright once it goes there) a little distracting. But it's also important to know the science to understand why what happened was such a tragedy and why the flooding of Gilboa did to it's residents echoed through the generations. 

Wheelwright slowly reveals family secrets as he covers themes including eminent domain, natural history, family, power, and atonement. His settings are vivid, his characters interesting and unique. The Door-Man isn't, as I said, a quick read, but if you're willing to take the time, you'll enjoy getting immersed in the story. 

Thanks to the ladies at TLC Book Tours for including me in this tour. For other opinions, check out the full tour here

About Peter M. Wheelwright 
Peter is a writer, architect, and educator. He is Emeritus Professor at The New School, Parsons School of Design in New York City, where he taught design and wrote on matters of environmental philosophy, design theory, and social practices in the built and natural worlds. Peter comes from a family of writers with an abiding affection for the natural world. His uncle Peter Matthiessen was a three time National Book Award winner, and his brother Jeff Wheelwright is a writer of environmental non-fiction. Educated at Trinity College where he studied painting and sculpture, he went on to receive his Master in Architecture from Princeton University. As an architect, his design work has been widely published in both the national and international press. The Kaleidoscope House, a modernist dollhouse designed in collaboration with artist Laurie Simmons is in the Collection of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art. You can find Peter on his website , Instagram, and Twitter.

1 comment:

  1. This sounds like a great read! Thank you for being on this tour. Sara @ TLC Book Tours