Charles Taylor reviews the novel"The Woman Who Walked into Doors" by Roddy Doyle.
If Roddy Doyle hadn’t earned his chops as a hugely entertaining pop novelist with The Barrytown Trilogy, he probably wouldn’t be turning into such a fine “serious” novelist. The Barrytown Trilogy were comedies about the glue that holds families together. The humor came from the loving, blunt, unsentimental way the characters talked to each other. The books he’s written since then, “Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha,” and the new “The Woman Who Walked Into Doors,” are borderline tragedies whose protagonists are trying to keep their families from flying apart.
Paula Spencer is a 39-year-old mother of four, an alcoholic doing her damnedest to raise her kids alone since kicking out her abusive husband, Charlo. The novel begins with Paula being told that Charlo has been shot by the police after killing a woman in a bungled robbery attempt.
Writing in the first person for the first time (and in a woman’s voice), Doyle has joined his plain-spoken style to a heightened sense of observation and a wounding emotional power. What’s most devastating in the section where Paula details Charlo’s abuse is its matter-of-factness. “A taxi to the hospital. He held my hand and put his free arm around my back to keep me steady. . . He chatted with the driver. He was relaxed, in control, looking after me. . . He had just pulled my arm out of its socket, less than an hour before.”
There’s no self-pity in Paula, and Doyle doesn’t shy away from the economic pragmatism (or Charlo’s sexual magnetism) that keeps her in the marriage. What’s toughest about Doyle’s view of Catholic culture is that, like John N. Smith’s film “The Boys of St. Vincent,” it has the guts to suggest that, in some basic way, abuse is the logical outcome of a culture where power belongs to a chosen few and it’s the duty of the unlucky rest to suffer and serve. Paula’s refusal to do that is the book’s shaky affirmation, an unlikely example of how no can mean yes.
Charles Taylor is a columnist for the Newark Star-Ledger. More Charles Taylor.
More Related Stories
- Stop what you're doing and go watch "Borgen"
- Teenage girl claims she was beaten up for looking like Taylor Swift
- Mike Judge: "Bowling for Columbine" made me pro-gun
- New York chef serves up eight-course meal around "Arrested Development" jokes
- HLN: Jodi Arias "pleading for her life" got us a ratings win!
- Michael Ian Black on Maron feud: He "considered me a poseur"
- Chekhov's story mirrors Russia's own
- Pussy Riot member Maria Alyokhina denied parole
- Joe Francis apologizes for calling jury "retarded"
- Mary Karr: David Foster Wallace and I kept each other alive
- Morgan Freeman sleeps during televised interview
- J.J. Abrams reveals deleted shower scene with Benedict Cumberbatch
- Is the anti-gay backlash on?
- Paul McCartney backs Pussy Riot
- Cannes: Ryan Gosling's new movie draws the boo-birds
- Radio host tweets rape joke, blames journalists for reporting on it
- Juror responds to Joe Francis' insults with thoughtful email
- New track from the Lonely Island features Solange Knowles, semicolons
- Amazon introduces fan fiction publishing platform
- Naomi Watts, "Argo," "Wonderstone" among bizarre Teen Choice Awards nominees
- Imprisoned Pussy Riot member declares hunger strike
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11