Do the Windows Open?

Charles Taylor reviews "Do The Windows Open" By Julie Hecht.

Published January 24, 1997 8:00PM (EST)

Not wide enough. Imagine being stuck in a waiting room in which the only thing to read are old copies of "Town and Country" and "The Utne Reader." That's what the experience of making your way through Julie Hecht's collection of interrelated short stories is like. Hecht, whose appearances in "The New Yorker" have earned her a following, sure knows how to maintain a voice. The stories are all narrated by the same character -- a late '30s sort-of New Yorker (lives in the Hamptons, summers in Nantucket) who's an odd mix of old-school sophistication and new-age dippiness.

The joke of the collection is the character's paralysis in the face of her mass of phobias and neuroses. Hecht's protagonist seems to be inhabiting a universe of one. In relation to her, even her husband is a distant constellation. At times, the effect is amusing, as if the young Diane Keaton were playing a script written by Fran Lebowitz. "I have to be careful where I go in this town. Because last week I used an obscenity. I actually called out an obscene directive to a clerk in a paint store. I can't believe that I did such a thing ... But I always compare myself to Jacqueline Kennedy whenever my behavior falls short of my expectations, and I know that she would never under any circumstances have used a curse word in public ... Although I did see Princess Radziwill in an organic-food market one June day, and when the item she was searching for was unavailable she said, 'Blast it!'"

But all of Hecht's humor derives from her complete immersion in that voice. It's no mean feat to maintain the precise calibration of that passage over the course of an entire book. It's also a maddening one. After a while, it doesn't matter that Hecht is satirizing this woman, because you're stuck listening to her polite, nervous indecision. The book made me want to scream and brought out the sadist in me: I longed for the woman's worst nightmares to be realized, anything to break the perfectly modulated tone. Reading "Do the Windows Open?" is like passing someone on the verge of completing a house of cards and being seized by the temptation to puff your cheeks and blow.

By Charles Taylor

Charles Taylor is a columnist for the Newark Star-Ledger.

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