Reviewed by John Biscello
A Door Behind A Door
by Yelena Moskovich
Two Dollar Radio, 188 pp., $16.99
In the afterlife
You could be headed for the serious strife
Now you make the scene all day
But tomorrow there’ll be Hell to pay
—The Squirrel Nut Zippers, “Hell”
Look out there. In the distance, toward the horizon. Can you see it? More importantly, can you feel it? A solitary rowboat adrift at sea, the waves like scallop-fringed wraiths from a Japanese woodblock beginning to gather around it, and the individual in that boat, brave and terrified and lost and found all at once, continues what has been called the “awful rowing toward God.” Here, now, comes the soundtrack, as if the silver linings in clouds host angels porcelain voices: Row row row your boat / Gently down the stream / Merrily merrily merrily merrily / Life is a but a dream. Or nightmare. Track #2 is is the remix of another cheery children’s tune: The wheels on the bus go round and round, round and round, round and round…. Will the wheels ever stop? What kind of bus is this? Is there a way to get off? Where is it going, really? And the bus driver, with the missing eye and wax-slicked moustache and non-existent lips, why doesn’t he ever say a word? Just leers into the rearview from time to time, where you can’t tell if his one good eye is full of malice or mischief or both. These, and other liminally hazardous forms of travel, constitute the transit inner-verse as constructed by Yelena Moskovich.
Moskovich’s third novel, A Door Behind A Door, is a crime story in a house of broken and partly blacked out mirrors. None of the reflections are to be trusted, and yet each one of them bears the integrity of a shared and arterial whole. The jittery contagions of violence, longing and a desire for absolution pepper the spiritual core of the novel, while the phantom ties that bind family—sometimes as a breath-damming corset, other times as a cortege of tenderness—serve as its lynchpins.
Olga and Misha, a brother and sister, who are part of the Soviet diaspora of 1991, relocate to America; Olga, to Milkwaukee, where she meets and falls in love with the dark-haired angel, Angelina. A phone call from Nikolai—who, as a boy lived across the hall from Olga and her family, the “bad boy” who murdered the sweet old lady who lived upstairs—draws Olga into a kaleidoscopic netherworld of darkness, shame, and dislocation , involving her brother, Misha, or rather her brother’s soul, along with the incestuously intertwined and overlapping souls of others. Nikolai, as a seasoned traveler, explains: “To get to Hell . . . they take you through America. There is a door behind a door.”
This, then, is Moskovich’s prime territory, where her surrealistic operas of beauty and cruelty play out with recursive momentum. It’s been said that repetition never happens, but breaks forth since it is recollected forwards; an agitated syndrome of pauses and breakthroughs. Olga, and the rest of the ensemble in A Door Behind A Door, hurry nowhere with frantic intensity, and generate friction through fiercely rubbing voids together. The journey that Olga takes to the haunted interior is not unlike the one that Harry Haller undertakes in Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf. An anti-hero’s journey that speaks to duality, and multiplicities, yet Moskovich’s architecting of this pilgrimage is rendered like a series of poetic drive-bys. Or, as elliptical telegrams shuttling back and forth between heaven and hell, with countless messages getting lost in purgatory:
“It is not what I would have expected. There are no angels. No apostles. No saints. There is only Cosa Nostra.”
To break through the skin of this lifetime.
How long must we carry it as affliction?
“I look at her. She looks at me. We see other things.”
A Door Behind A Door wrestles, and lyrically so, with questions of splintered moral conscience and spiritual crisis, while rooting itself in the molten geography of the body. Moskovich is, unequivocally, a poet of longing. A sheer longing that is monstrous and innocent and knowing and naïve and brutal and delicate, and teethes on the edges of lost playthings. Pure longing which, in its abacus of stolen kisses, calls for its own evisceration.
I want is one of the book’s fevered refrains, its double-edged sword of fear and desire. From Olga, to Misha, to Nikolai, to Tanya, to Remy, there is this shared, quivering, knotted bulge of want, of wanting, creating a symphonic web of harmony and dissonance. Moskovich’s multi-layered novel speaks to mercy and salvation, on undisclosed terms, and the highest compliment I can pay to one of the most dynamic contemporary authors working in the field: She makes you happy to be a reader.
Originally from Brooklyn, NY, author, poet, performer, and playwright, John Biscello, has called Taos, New Mexico home since 2001. He is the author of three novels: Broken Land, Raking the Dust, and Nocturne Variations; a collection of stories, Freeze Tag; and a poetry collection, Arclight.
His fiction and poetry has appeared in: Art Times, nthposition, The Wanderlust Review, Ophelia Street, Caper, Polyphony, Dilate, Militant Roger, Chokecherries, Farmhouse, BENT, The 555 Collective, Instigator, Brass Sopaipilla, The Iconoclast, Adobe Walls, Kansas City Voices, and the Tishman Review. Broken Land, A Brooklyn Tale was named Underground Book Reviews 2014 Book of the Year. Visit his website at: johnbiscello.com.