Review: THE DOOR BEHIND US

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August 17, 2016 by kitmoss

THE DOOR BEHIND US

John C. Houser

Published October 14th 2013 by Dreamspinner Press

It probably is no mystery that there are a fair number of gay historical romances set during and after World War I.  It was a time when cultural norms were turned upside down and the emergence of the individual separate from family and community was most dramatic.  For people who had lived in rural areas or in poverty the options appeared to open up; for women it was a time of a wave of liberation.  For people who would later be called “gay” it would be a time of questioning the expectations others had of us in this suddenly fragile mortality.

This novel is a marvelous example of post-WWI gay romance.  Frank has returned home, or rather to his grandparents’ home, with little or no memory after a wartime head wound.  He cannot hold on to a memory and must relearn faces, names, and facts over and over every day.  His grandparents hire Jersy Rohn, another disabled vet, to be a sort of aide and companion to Frank, to help him with chores and possibly to help him remember.  The friendship that develops proves to be therapeutic for both men.

Two obstacles stand before them: their own self-doubt and family distrust.  That their friendship turns to love helps with neither.  Not at first.  Family starts out mostly wanting the disabled young men to accept a sort of permanent childhood independence.  Together Frank and Jersy can find their own independence, but the nature of their relationship, once known, threatens not only their love but their self reliance.

The characterization of the two disabled men was simple, direct, honest, and without smarmy drama.  You’d be surprised how rare this is.  There is nothing about how brave they are or how special or how they raise themselves to as high a level of independence as they can rightly manage.  They are normal humans who fear, doubt, make mistakes, fall, and help each other get up.  As a visually disabled person, I can’t say how much I appreciated this.  Other characters are distinct and memorable: the eccentric physician, the monster of a grandmother, the ineffectual teacher at the Friends’ school who rejects Frank out of hand for his sexual proclivities.

This is historical fiction that is fascinating in what it tells us about what was happening in various areas of life at the time, such as the state of physical rehabilitation after the immense strides taken from the tragedy of the war, the nature of the Society of Friends’ position on same sex love, how even that people traveled.  The best historical fiction teaches a reader about life, not just details of historical periods and events, and what human experience within may have been.  This novel is a prime example of how it can work so well.

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