Book Review: Standing in Doorways
Wednesday, March 20, 2019 at 8:05PM
Windy City Reviews

Standing in DoorwaysWes Payton. Adelaide Books, December 6, 2018, Trade Paperback, 266 pages.

Reviewed by Ed Sarna.

Standing in Doorways is the second book by Wes Payton that I’ve reviewed, and like Lead Tears, the first one, I loved it. It showcases Mr. Payton’s clever use of wordplay and his sneaky sense of humor.

The novel is structured in two parts. Part One chronicles the lives of a group of college students afflicted with various mental disorders. They attend a prestigious Midwestern university and are ensconced in Study House, their dormitory. We come to know these students through the eyes of Vivien Leigh (not thatVivien Leigh). Vivien describes her pathology when she says, “I can’t read expressions or understand body language. I’m barely human.” When asked if that means she’s a literal, she answers, “I was for a long time until I finally figured out that people rarely mean what they say. Now I don’t really believe anything I’m told, which can be an advantage in college, but from what my counselor tells me is somewhat discouraged in the real world.” 

These individuals are carefully observed, as stated in the opening sentence, “…Study House, which wasn’t named for what was required of its residents, but rather what was done to them.” They are sometimes referred to by their infliction: Schiz, a schizophrenic, Prodigy (also referred to as Digy), a genius who is editing the dictionary and has been the subject of a lifelong experiment that studies the limits of human intelligence and mental endurance, Poopy, who keeps a journal of his bowel movements, and Psycho, who may or may not be a psychopath. There is also Patty who has a constantly changing personality, but unlike a schizophrenic, “…she doesn’t have multiple personalities trapped inside of her, instead her personality continually reinvents itself, as if her mind is perpetually flipping through the channels of an internal television and she imitates whatever show is on at the moment.” There is also Vivien Leigh’s roommate, Vivian Lee, who in describing himself says, “My condition enables me to read people too accurately for comfort.”

Part One takes place in the 1990s while Part Two takes place twenty years later. In Part Two, the lives of some students intersect. Vivien Leigh is now a writer, having once written a novella called Study House, about her college years. Referring to the novella, Vivien says, “…the narrative wasn’t so much based on events that really happened but rather my impression of being a college student in the nineties.” This explanation may or may not be true. As Book Two unfolds and the characters from Book One cross paths, we are left wondering what’s real and what’s fiction. Are the things we are told truthful to the actual characters' lives or the novella’s characters’ lives? Lest you think this book merely poses philosophical questions, it also involves a murder, a possible suicide, and a mysterious pregnancy. Or maybe it doesn’t.

Wes Payton's writing is complex, crisp, and cunning. The skillful way he weaves the narrative and the novella together kept me hooked throughout the book. His railing against dumbing down language for the masses, and his warning of what happens when idiots are put in charge, (“…and because they also happened to be overpaid, they would hire incompetent subordinates who would not jeopardize their jobs by questioning their dubious credentials or their ability to make decisions…”) are beyond appropriate. I highly recommend Standing in Doorways by Wes Payton.


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