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The Narrow Door: A Memoir of Friendship

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In The Narrow Door, Paul Lisicky creates a compelling collage of scenes and images drawn from two long-term relationships, one with a woman novelist and the other with his ex-husband, a poet. The contours of these relationships shift constantly. Denise and Paul, stretched by the demands of their writing lives, drift apart, and Paul's romance begins to falter. And the world In The Narrow Door, Paul Lisicky creates a compelling collage of scenes and images drawn from two long-term relationships, one with a woman novelist and the other with his ex-husband, a poet. The contours of these relationships shift constantly. Denise and Paul, stretched by the demands of their writing lives, drift apart, and Paul's romance begins to falter. And the world around them is frail: environmental catastrophes like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, natural disasters like the earthquake in Haiti, and local disturbances make an unsettling backdrop to the pressing concerns of Denise's cancer diagnosis and Paul's impending breakup. Lisicky's compassionate heart and resilience seem all the stronger in the face of such searing losses. His survival--hard-won, unsentimental, authentic--proves that in turning toward loss, we embrace life. *A Rumpus Book Club Selection* “Breathtaking and heartbreaking.” —Publishers Weekly “Lisicky realized a painful truth. The closer he got to people, the more he had to acknowledge their freedom to die and/or leave him. With empathy and emotional finesse, the author renders the fragility of interpersonal connections, and he offers insight into the complicated nature of the human heart. Honest and compassionate." –Kirkus Reviews “Intelligent and intimate, fierce and tender, real and raw, Paul Lisicky’s The Narrow Door is an unforgettable memoir about love and loss, friendship and forgiveness. It had me in its thrall from page one.” —Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild “The most moving account of love among artists I’ve ever read. The Narrow Door is astonishing." —Garth Greenwell, author of What Belongs to You “I love this book so much that I found myself slowing to a crawl as I reached the end, not wanting to part ways quite yet. This is a portrait of a friendship unlike any I've read. In embracing the fluidity of relationships--platonic and romantic, real life and idolatrous, even human and canine--it reminds us that true connection can be as fleeting and precious as true solitude. There is a unique honesty in that revelation, and also a great if surprising comfort." —Megan Daum, author of The Unspeakable “The Narrow Door is a book about a long friendship, which means it’s a book about everything in life: love, hope, longing, death, fallings-out, reconciliation, art, dumb jokes, deep loss. In The Narrow Door, Paul Lisicky proves, again, that he’s one of our finest writers on the intricacies of the human heart. Like all of Lisicky’s work, it’s beautiful and brilliant.” —Elizabeth McCracken, author of Thunderstruck


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In The Narrow Door, Paul Lisicky creates a compelling collage of scenes and images drawn from two long-term relationships, one with a woman novelist and the other with his ex-husband, a poet. The contours of these relationships shift constantly. Denise and Paul, stretched by the demands of their writing lives, drift apart, and Paul's romance begins to falter. And the world In The Narrow Door, Paul Lisicky creates a compelling collage of scenes and images drawn from two long-term relationships, one with a woman novelist and the other with his ex-husband, a poet. The contours of these relationships shift constantly. Denise and Paul, stretched by the demands of their writing lives, drift apart, and Paul's romance begins to falter. And the world around them is frail: environmental catastrophes like the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, natural disasters like the earthquake in Haiti, and local disturbances make an unsettling backdrop to the pressing concerns of Denise's cancer diagnosis and Paul's impending breakup. Lisicky's compassionate heart and resilience seem all the stronger in the face of such searing losses. His survival--hard-won, unsentimental, authentic--proves that in turning toward loss, we embrace life. *A Rumpus Book Club Selection* “Breathtaking and heartbreaking.” —Publishers Weekly “Lisicky realized a painful truth. The closer he got to people, the more he had to acknowledge their freedom to die and/or leave him. With empathy and emotional finesse, the author renders the fragility of interpersonal connections, and he offers insight into the complicated nature of the human heart. Honest and compassionate." –Kirkus Reviews “Intelligent and intimate, fierce and tender, real and raw, Paul Lisicky’s The Narrow Door is an unforgettable memoir about love and loss, friendship and forgiveness. It had me in its thrall from page one.” —Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild “The most moving account of love among artists I’ve ever read. The Narrow Door is astonishing." —Garth Greenwell, author of What Belongs to You “I love this book so much that I found myself slowing to a crawl as I reached the end, not wanting to part ways quite yet. This is a portrait of a friendship unlike any I've read. In embracing the fluidity of relationships--platonic and romantic, real life and idolatrous, even human and canine--it reminds us that true connection can be as fleeting and precious as true solitude. There is a unique honesty in that revelation, and also a great if surprising comfort." —Megan Daum, author of The Unspeakable “The Narrow Door is a book about a long friendship, which means it’s a book about everything in life: love, hope, longing, death, fallings-out, reconciliation, art, dumb jokes, deep loss. In The Narrow Door, Paul Lisicky proves, again, that he’s one of our finest writers on the intricacies of the human heart. Like all of Lisicky’s work, it’s beautiful and brilliant.” —Elizabeth McCracken, author of Thunderstruck

30 review for The Narrow Door: A Memoir of Friendship

  1. 4 out of 5

    Larry H

    "What is it like to know a single human in time?" In The Narrow Door , his poignant, gorgeously told memoir, novelist Paul Lisicky paints a picture of the two overarching relationships in his life—one with the late novelist Denise Gess, and one with his ex-husband, a poet he refers to only as M. More snapshots from random moments in time than a fluid narrative, this is an account of how fundamentally our lives our changed by being needed and wanted, as well as being slighted and hurt. Paul Lisi "What is it like to know a single human in time?" In The Narrow Door , his poignant, gorgeously told memoir, novelist Paul Lisicky paints a picture of the two overarching relationships in his life—one with the late novelist Denise Gess, and one with his ex-husband, a poet he refers to only as M. More snapshots from random moments in time than a fluid narrative, this is an account of how fundamentally our lives our changed by being needed and wanted, as well as being slighted and hurt. Paul Lisicky met Denise Gess when the two were teaching assistants at Rutgers. Denise was larger than life, confident in front of a classroom or a crowd, and seemingly much more sure of her writing ability than Paul, who always felt as if he needed to throw up when teaching, and lacked the self-confidence in his own storytelling skills. The two quickly form a tight bond, borne of insecurities, a mutual love of Joni Mitchell, and the desire to succeed in the writing world. The Narrow Door traces the path of Paul and Denise's friendship—the cherished moments and memories they shared, the secrets they kept from each other, the resentments and jealousies they tried to mask, and the way they rescued each other at times of need. Paul recounts the ways Denise changed his life, both for better and at times, for worse, and shares the pain her 2010 death from cancer caused him. "Perhaps what we love about a friendship is that it makes us look over our shoulders, stay on our toes. We watch our words. There are never any rules to guide us, no contracts, no bloodlines, just the day after day of it. It's work, though it pretends it's painless and easy. And beneath everything: the queasy possibility that it all might end tomorrow." This is also the story of his relationship with M, one which started as a friendship and blossomed into romance. Lisicky recounts the ways love changes us, the ways we often take its presence for granted, and how easy it is to ignore the problems and hope they go away. How do we make the difficult decision of how long to fight for love, and when to walk away? The book jumps around from memory to memory, from the 1980s when Paul and Denise first met, to 2010, following her death and as Paul's relationship with M begins disintegrating. At times it's a little disorienting because you have to remember where the characters were at that particular point in time, but Lisicky reels you back in fairly quickly. It also tells of the things he focused on to avoid focusing on his anguish and loneliness, although I wished he didn't dwell as much on those things, but how can he change what he felt? I wasn't familiar with Lisicky's work before finding this book, but I was really dazzled by the way he writes. If you've ever had a friendship that dominated so much of your life, and/or a relationship that held your heart for so long, perhaps The Narrow Door will resonate for you. And even if you can't identify with what Lisicky went through, the sheer poignancy of his emotional account will grip you. See all of my reviews at http://itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blo....

  2. 4 out of 5

    Julie Ehlers

    Here's a tip for writers everywhere: If you want to win your readers' immediate loyalty, open with a scene as welcoming as the one that begins Paul Lisicky's memoir: Close friends and family gathered in an inviting Philadelphia loft apartment, a delicious-sounding meal, a sense of celebration and gratitude in the air. There may have been a fire crackling on the hearth or I may be imagining that; certainly it seemed like there was. I was pulled in immediately. I was with these people there at the Here's a tip for writers everywhere: If you want to win your readers' immediate loyalty, open with a scene as welcoming as the one that begins Paul Lisicky's memoir: Close friends and family gathered in an inviting Philadelphia loft apartment, a delicious-sounding meal, a sense of celebration and gratitude in the air. There may have been a fire crackling on the hearth or I may be imagining that; certainly it seemed like there was. I was pulled in immediately. I was with these people there at the beginning, and I never lost that feeling of being with them. Of course, there were several ways into this book for me. I bought it because I was going through a phase of buying all the new books by Graywolf Press. I didn't really know what it was about at the time. After that, I read and five-starred multiple books by the poet/memoirist Mark Doty, and then picked this one up and realized it was, in part, about the dissolution of the author's long-term relationship with... Mark Doty. I was a bit unsure if I wanted to read about my new favorite author Mark Doty from his ex-husband's perspective, but my curiosity was undeniable, and Lisicky did a good job of writing about it honestly while still being respectful. Then, too, a lot of this book takes place in Philadelphia. I live in Philadelphia, but not the same Philadelphia that's depicted here. How do I get to live in this awesome Philadelphia instead of the one I currently live in?!? Maybe I need to join a writing program. Regardless, I appreciated this vivid and fascinating portrait of the place I call home. Anyway, this book is mainly about Lisicky's close friendship with another writer, Denise Gess, and Denise's eventual death of metastasized colorectal cancer. Everything about it feels very immediate—Lisicky's relationship with Denise; his relationship with Mark Doty; his relationship to his own creative process and career and the places it takes him. This immediacy makes you feel that you're living every moment along with him, but there's a contemplative aspect that provides some wisdom. Perhaps not the same wisdom you'd get if he'd written about everything years after it happened, but a valuable perspective just the same. I can't recall if I've ever read a memoir like this about a close friendship: The ways people support each other, compete with each other, move in and out and back into each other's lives. It would have been really interesting to see how Paul and Denise's friendship continued to develop as they got older. Of course, the fact that this is impossible gives the book a lot of its weight and insight. The Narrow Door is so unique; I can't think of another book quite like it. I was reluctant to leave it behind. Fortunately for me (and all of us), Lisicky is writing another memoir that will be out next year. I'm already looking forward to being in his company again.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Vincent Scarpa

    (My interview with Paul, about THE NARROW DOOR, over at Electric Lit: https://electricliterature.com/like-r...) Masterful and unforgettable. Paul Lisicky is at his absolute best in THE NARROW DOOR, a book about relationships, longing, death, divorce, decay, but also bloomings, renewals, faith, hope. I like what Meghan Daum has to say about it when she says, "it reminds us that true connection can be as fleeting and precious as true solitude"—a great distillation of this wondrous, essential book's (My interview with Paul, about THE NARROW DOOR, over at Electric Lit: https://electricliterature.com/like-r...) Masterful and unforgettable. Paul Lisicky is at his absolute best in THE NARROW DOOR, a book about relationships, longing, death, divorce, decay, but also bloomings, renewals, faith, hope. I like what Meghan Daum has to say about it when she says, "it reminds us that true connection can be as fleeting and precious as true solitude"—a great distillation of this wondrous, essential book's achievement. To be read and admired for its honesty, vulnerability, insight, and captured awe.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Katherine Locke

    The best books are the ones that make you feel bigger on the inside, but like your world is smaller. And god, this book does it. This book. It's so beautiful. It's so refreshingly raw when approaching those long-term friendships which feel like a marriage you can't quite make work. It's about the tidal nature of friendships: neither of you can decide which of you is the shore and which of you is the wave, but one of you is always leaving and coming at the same time. It's about twining together t The best books are the ones that make you feel bigger on the inside, but like your world is smaller. And god, this book does it. This book. It's so beautiful. It's so refreshingly raw when approaching those long-term friendships which feel like a marriage you can't quite make work. It's about the tidal nature of friendships: neither of you can decide which of you is the shore and which of you is the wave, but one of you is always leaving and coming at the same time. It's about twining together the changing face of literature and America and careers, how we push and pull against each other. It's about the beginning and the end of some of the relationships that make us who we are. It's about people we can't live without, but can't live with. I took so many pictures of quotes. I want to write an essay about my own troublesome long-term friendships, about marriages I've seen collapse, about careers and tensions and jealousy and envy and hope and inspiration. Maybe I will. Thank you, Paul, for opening the narrow door for the rest of us.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Marian

    Maybe 3.5. This was a sometimes-compelling look at friendship and competition between writers. That sense of rivalry and unease was probably what most kept me reading. I would've liked a better sense of that friendship, though, as well as the author's partnership with Mark Doty (here referred to as M), another writer-writer relationship that is not examined in that way -- and is not examined very closely, in general. The personalities of the three seemed to come through only intermittently, and Maybe 3.5. This was a sometimes-compelling look at friendship and competition between writers. That sense of rivalry and unease was probably what most kept me reading. I would've liked a better sense of that friendship, though, as well as the author's partnership with Mark Doty (here referred to as M), another writer-writer relationship that is not examined in that way -- and is not examined very closely, in general. The personalities of the three seemed to come through only intermittently, and a lot was withheld, without that aloofness of content being compensated for strongly enough through choices of aesthetics and style (as in, e.g., Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking). I was also surprised that the author seems to let himself off the hook a little too much -- the jealousy and competition he writes of is laid overwhelmingly at the feet of his friend (Denise), while he doesn't reflect much on his side of the equation, and what he may at this distance see more clearly or perhaps regret. Similarly, there is a huge question of financial dependence and attending writerly competition that must have had a dramatic impact on his marriage with Doty, but these are barely noted. I feel like there's a memoir beneath this memoir.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Rambling Reader

    wow... paul seems like a great friend I'd be honored if we're friends i admire his writing and he's cute!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Robert Vaughan

    Review forthcoming. Need this week to digest this stellar book.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Erik

    Paul Lisicky is one of the most underrated writers working today, and "The Narrow Door" is yet another example of a authorial voice that pierces a readers soul with his prose. "The Narrow Door" interweaves stories of Lisicky's closest friend Denise as they both arrive on the literary scene and as Denise slowly succumbs to cancer with stories of the erosion of his longterm relationship with M. Lisicky, faced with loss after loss after loss works his way towards and through the narrow door, trying Paul Lisicky is one of the most underrated writers working today, and "The Narrow Door" is yet another example of a authorial voice that pierces a readers soul with his prose. "The Narrow Door" interweaves stories of Lisicky's closest friend Denise as they both arrive on the literary scene and as Denise slowly succumbs to cancer with stories of the erosion of his longterm relationship with M. Lisicky, faced with loss after loss after loss works his way towards and through the narrow door, trying to find himself, and his own freedom, as he unpacks the losses he is withstanding. Each sentence is this book will draw you deeper and deeper into the mind of someone truly thoughtful about the world he inhabits. Lisicky is a master at forcing you, his reader, to hear his words and to turn inwards in total self-reflection. "The Narrow Door" will force you to consider your own relationships, your own losses, and your own reaches through the narrow door to freedom; it creates a reading experience you absolutely cannot miss.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Bobby Jett

    If a heart could speak, it would write this book.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Kevin Catalano

    A lot of readers throw around the word "brave" when describing art. I was always put off by that kind of accolade, until I read Lisicky's memoir. Until I read The Narrow Door, I didn't understand the courage it takes to write. Specifically, Lisicky writes honestly about the tragic loss -- and wonderful life -- of his friend Denise; and I wonder about the pressure of trying to do justice in prose to a loved one's life and death. Lisicky writes unapologetically about his relationship -- its life a A lot of readers throw around the word "brave" when describing art. I was always put off by that kind of accolade, until I read Lisicky's memoir. Until I read The Narrow Door, I didn't understand the courage it takes to write. Specifically, Lisicky writes honestly about the tragic loss -- and wonderful life -- of his friend Denise; and I wonder about the pressure of trying to do justice in prose to a loved one's life and death. Lisicky writes unapologetically about his relationship -- its life and death -- with longtime partner Mark; and I can't help think about how Mark might read about himself, about how Lisicky had to not think about how Mark might read about himself. Not that the author disparages the people who appear in his memoir, but to lay bare the emotional life of others without flinching should be praised. But it's the way Lisicky splays open himself, lays bare his emotional life, that is the true triumph and bravery of The Narrow Door. Sure, other memoirists do this, or try. Rarely, however, do they do so with a beauty and purity that puts you in the author's own heart and mind -- not watching the characters of the memoir from a distance like some reality TV show. Ironically -- or maybe it's not ironic -- but I had the same emotional experience reading The Narrow Door as I did Mark Doty's memoir, Dog Years. Perhaps Dog Years isn't as "brave" as Narrow Door, but both render emotions beautifully and honestly. Here are a few lines from Paul Lisicky's memoir that illustrate the kind of emotion I'm referring to, but really, you have to read this book to get its full scope. "Yes, this is how I will care for you. I will tune out my light until the fire stays completely inside, maybe unreachable to you. It doesn't even occur to me that you might want to warm your hands hands on that fire, that you might need it in order to forget." "Loss can corrupt your thinking. Loss can trick you into believing bad things happen because you must be a bad person. Loss -- too much of it at once -- is sinister that way." "I'm remembering my friend. It would make sense that someone so attached to her writing -- the allure of the perfect shape, which must always be rejected -- would want to mess things up a little at the end."

  11. 5 out of 5

    Antonia Crane

    I thought I only dated crazy, but my friendships have historically been more idiosyncratic and rocky than my carnal loves. Reading Paul Lisicky's sorrowful and poised "The Narrow Door" made me feel less alone in this nutty little friend dance. His consistently stunning (but never showy) prose caused me to return again and again to certain passages like, "The closer we get to someone, the more humbly we stand before his freedom" (Walt Whitman) the same way that a person would return to a portrait I thought I only dated crazy, but my friendships have historically been more idiosyncratic and rocky than my carnal loves. Reading Paul Lisicky's sorrowful and poised "The Narrow Door" made me feel less alone in this nutty little friend dance. His consistently stunning (but never showy) prose caused me to return again and again to certain passages like, "The closer we get to someone, the more humbly we stand before his freedom" (Walt Whitman) the same way that a person would return to a portrait of a dazzling woman in a mink coat on a rainy afternoon at a Brooklyn train station. I kept looking and guessing why his ill-defined friendship with Denise ran so hot and cold while he did too. His love for her (as well as her ghost) was so visceral on every page from her gestures and expressions to the boisterous emails between them that buried its truth within ancient friendship codes. I was devastated when Denise died and could hardly turn the page for the sweet little loss was unbearable— Lisicky alone her funeral, eyeballing her other friends and finally wandering into the night, bewildered, lost in a new kind of alone.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Gallaway

    For me (a gay male writer of sorts), this book was a very compelling but at times uncomfortable read because (in terms of the latter) much of it depicts two worlds -- 1) the industry of literary fiction and 2) friendships with non-homosexual women -- in which the narrator is (relatively) ensconced but which I tend to view with increasing suspicion and tbh a lot of anger as time passes. And I kept wanting the narrator to be more angry I guess? But that in no way is a criticism of the book, and pr For me (a gay male writer of sorts), this book was a very compelling but at times uncomfortable read because (in terms of the latter) much of it depicts two worlds -- 1) the industry of literary fiction and 2) friendships with non-homosexual women -- in which the narrator is (relatively) ensconced but which I tend to view with increasing suspicion and tbh a lot of anger as time passes. And I kept wanting the narrator to be more angry I guess? But that in no way is a criticism of the book, and probably says more about me and my brand of insanity. If anything, it should be taken as an endorsement, because not only does the book feel relevant to my concerns in ways that very few (contemporary) books do, but there's also a real dissonance at work here between the beauty and technique of the prose (so gay/so gorgeous), its intricate construction, and some of the truly harrowing scenes on display. In the end, it made me wonder if all writers are terrible (manipulative, narcissistic) people, and I was left the sneaking suspicion that the answer is yes?

  13. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    When I finished this book, my first impulse was to start reading it again. That's how gorgeous the writing is. Yes, this book is about loss: loss of a friend, loss of a long-time lover, loss of a sense of identity at these losses. And yet there's something in the (stunning) writing that says: how beautiful that we are capable of feelings so deeply. Maybe this book *isn't* about loss. Maybe it's about friendship and love and sharing your life with others. And of course what goes hand-in-hand with When I finished this book, my first impulse was to start reading it again. That's how gorgeous the writing is. Yes, this book is about loss: loss of a friend, loss of a long-time lover, loss of a sense of identity at these losses. And yet there's something in the (stunning) writing that says: how beautiful that we are capable of feelings so deeply. Maybe this book *isn't* about loss. Maybe it's about friendship and love and sharing your life with others. And of course what goes hand-in-hand with that is what Lisicky says so poignantly: "The closer we get to someone, the more we must stand humbly before his freedom." Freedom to die, to leave, to change... This freedom is inevitable.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Liz Gray

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Lisicky writes about the loss of both his best friend and his husband, the former to cancer and the latter to another person. However, he also suggests that that on some level he loses them due to professional jealousy (on their part). I have mixed feelings about this memoir. I liked the writing, the emotional honesty, and the author's openness. However, I found the constant switching between time periods distracting and confusing. I don't see how the story was served by traveling back and forth Lisicky writes about the loss of both his best friend and his husband, the former to cancer and the latter to another person. However, he also suggests that that on some level he loses them due to professional jealousy (on their part). I have mixed feelings about this memoir. I liked the writing, the emotional honesty, and the author's openness. However, I found the constant switching between time periods distracting and confusing. I don't see how the story was served by traveling back and forth so frequently. I also felt as if I was somehow being held at arm's length by the book: nothing ever made me cry or laugh out loud.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Leah

    I'm kind of glad my bus was delayed in traffic for almost two hours. I finished this beautifully sad memoir. I always love Paul's writing as he is such a poet. That last page... Wow.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Katherine

    This book had so much promise. Formally, it's similar to some of my recent favourites: memoirs that weave together personal and historical/cultural threads (and, probably not coincidentally, were published by Graywolf Press). I just wish the threads of The Narrow Door: A Memoir of Friendship had come together better for me. How did Deepwater Horizon illuminate the story of Paul Lisicky's friendship with one writer and romantic partnership with another? Why did we keep returning to Joni Mitchell? This book had so much promise. Formally, it's similar to some of my recent favourites: memoirs that weave together personal and historical/cultural threads (and, probably not coincidentally, were published by Graywolf Press). I just wish the threads of The Narrow Door: A Memoir of Friendship had come together better for me. How did Deepwater Horizon illuminate the story of Paul Lisicky's friendship with one writer and romantic partnership with another? Why did we keep returning to Joni Mitchell? Perhaps if I read it again I'll understand. Instead, I'll wait for Lisicky's next outing. Unlike any 2-star rating on my list, I eagerly await its author's next book.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Doug

    3.5 This is a book I'm a bit in a quandary about how to review - the prose is terrific, and the story both interesting and personally affecting. However, I am left feeling like I didn't ever get a very clear picture about Lisicky's relationship with EITHER his longtime friend, fellow writer Denise Gess, nor his ex-husband. There are many anecdotes, but somehow they didn't add up for me. I also was put off by the author's (perhaps legally mandated?) coyness about the identities of certain 'charac 3.5 This is a book I'm a bit in a quandary about how to review - the prose is terrific, and the story both interesting and personally affecting. However, I am left feeling like I didn't ever get a very clear picture about Lisicky's relationship with EITHER his longtime friend, fellow writer Denise Gess, nor his ex-husband. There are many anecdotes, but somehow they didn't add up for me. I also was put off by the author's (perhaps legally mandated?) coyness about the identities of certain 'characters' - for example he calls his ex-husband M throughout, but anyone with access to a Wikipedia page can easily find out that was poet Mark Doty - so why the subterfuge? Likewise with Gess's affair with 'Famous Writer', who was John Irving, the knowing of which makes the few glimpses of him far more interesting. Not sorry I read it, but left me feeling a bit 'meh'.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Nicholas

    I'm a big fan of memoirs about friendship and about dying, so combine the two and I'm even more enthusiastic (think Gail Caldwell's Let's Take the Long Way Home or Ann Patchett's Truth and Beauty). Paul Lisicky's Narrow Door is a beautifully written rumination on his friendship with the novelist Denise Gess, culminating in her death in 2009. It also explores his relationship (and its demise) with the poet Mark Doty. Lisicky moves back and forth in time in a way that normally I might find jarring I'm a big fan of memoirs about friendship and about dying, so combine the two and I'm even more enthusiastic (think Gail Caldwell's Let's Take the Long Way Home or Ann Patchett's Truth and Beauty). Paul Lisicky's Narrow Door is a beautifully written rumination on his friendship with the novelist Denise Gess, culminating in her death in 2009. It also explores his relationship (and its demise) with the poet Mark Doty. Lisicky moves back and forth in time in a way that normally I might find jarring but works really well here, combining elements from both stories into chapters that explore particular themes. I really enjoyed it.

  19. 4 out of 5

    David

    I found it interesting to pair the two relationships in this one instead of only sticking to the memory of a deceased friend. That made for an unusual book. There is some great emotion in this and a lot of the sentences sparkle. It took me a little while to get into it. I think I the structure threw me a little. Still, an engaging book.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Mark Kane

    Brilliant! I finished the book this morning and started reading it again immediately.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Kelly Bergin

    A memoir about writing and friendship and loss and love. Exquisite. Beautiful. Unique. I think you should read it. I was sad when it ended.

  22. 5 out of 5

    G

    I'm looking forward to my reread of this understated and moving book, which in its images evokes the feelings of love and loss that the author experiences.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    Definitely a book to make you think. Provides for a lot of self reflection and interpretation of Lisicky's life and how it can reflect into your own, teaching lessons along the way.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Caren

    I loved this book. It's such a relatable story - we all have friends and relationships we've loved and lost. And this one is told so beautifully. I just finished and already want to read it again. And I want to read more of his books, more of Doty's poetry (because I was already a fan), and some of Gess's writing. Highly recommended.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Taylor

    So beautifully written it doesn't feel like most memoirs. It's better.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Amanda Lichtenstein

    New to Paul Lisicky's work, I read The Narrow Door while seeking alternative structures for memoirs and essay collections. I thought I'd pay close attention to the structure of the book. Instead, I found myself gripped by the keen, sensitive, and sometimes blunt observations Paul offers on his major relationships in his life -- one with the writer Denise Gess, who I honestly had never heard of before and had to look up on Google, and the other with a famous poet he refers to as M. This is a book New to Paul Lisicky's work, I read The Narrow Door while seeking alternative structures for memoirs and essay collections. I thought I'd pay close attention to the structure of the book. Instead, I found myself gripped by the keen, sensitive, and sometimes blunt observations Paul offers on his major relationships in his life -- one with the writer Denise Gess, who I honestly had never heard of before and had to look up on Google, and the other with a famous poet he refers to as M. This is a book that seems simple at first -- love, loss, friendship -- what more can be said about the heartbreak? Paul manages to name, articulate, and freeze-frame observations that often get swept away (or under the rug) in these everyday moments with the people we love -- or try to love. One of the questions I have about memoir is how much to hold back and protect those who appear in our stories and I appreciate the way Paul navigates that fine and wobbly line. I also appreciate that as a writer, he lays bare some of the more brutal and petty undercurrents of being part of a writing community, including all the ways writers form relationships that are more like strategic chess games than true love, admiration or respect. I also appreciate how embodied he says with each sentence, each scene -- including details of his own pain and paranoia around health even as those around him do crumble, wither, die. These are the stories of the kinds of love that lives within and above those bounds, pushes against them while leaning in, too, it seems. I loved this book and hurried up to read it before I left the country for a big trip. I plan to read through it again at a slower pace when I return, only because I want to go back and study again the uncanny crescendo effect he creates towards the last third of the book. Though it's a nonlinear memoir, the two stories seems to converge and peak as a kind of climax to all the loss, loneliness, and yearning he's prepared us for leading up to the final moments of Denise's life and the end of his relationship with M (you don't end a relationship of 15 years in a night). This book is big-hearted, generous, and a gift to those struggling to write personal narratives that mine for the truth while also working hard to transform it as story. Reading this made me want to reach out to my friends -- try harder to love -- pay closer attention to those worlds of the living animals and plants -- live more in the present, the ever-present, the repeating, skipping present, so long as I am still here. The one drawback / noticing is that I wish he'd said more about some of the implied emotional abuse within the relationship he had with Denise and M. Though he never states it outright, there were dynamics that felt very hurtful and exhausting, and yet he didn't really dig into the why of himself in the middle of that. I wonder if that's something that might just need to be saved for private therapy and not something he wanted to expose. But I wonder about that for myself too -- with my own unpublished book -- to what extent would I be willing to throw myself under the microscope as I reveal the weaknesses and shortcomings of those I've loved or tried to love in my lifetime? This is an excellent book to ask those questions. It's brave -- vulnerable -- at times mundane but always fascinating, at times, not necessarily gripping but still necessary to the larger project of love in all its forms.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    This beautifully written book, combined with the intrigue of natural and man made disasters and fascinating literary themes: "The Narrow Door: A Memoir of Friendship" author Paul Lisicky recalled his lifelong friendship with the late novelist/associate professor from Rutgers University Denise Gess, also the unraveling of his once loving passionate marriage to author/poet he simply refers to as "M". In 1984 Lisicky met Denise when they were both student teachers at Rutgers, and quickly established This beautifully written book, combined with the intrigue of natural and man made disasters and fascinating literary themes: "The Narrow Door: A Memoir of Friendship" author Paul Lisicky recalled his lifelong friendship with the late novelist/associate professor from Rutgers University Denise Gess, also the unraveling of his once loving passionate marriage to author/poet he simply refers to as "M". In 1984 Lisicky met Denise when they were both student teachers at Rutgers, and quickly established a close friendship. People in passing, assumed they were a straight couple, or happy family as they strolled the streets, and shopped together with Denise's young daughter Austen. Always supportive of each other in literary pursuits, public readings etc. Denise seemed to desire fame and recognition as an author, perhaps not achieving this higher status may have led her to be more temperamental. Denise would remark how "impossible" Lisicky was once: (from the book)... "It will scorch me. I want to say, do you know what it is like to be under such scrutiny? Do you know what it was like to feel the earth shifting beneath your feet week by week, depending on what story you put up? It was so stressful! Don't simplify me! You- me-- we're both complicated. Where is your dignity?"...When he allowed additional closeness, at times they drifted apart. Non-judgmental, he confessed, vaguely remembering one of her wedding ceremonies, Gess married and divorced twice. Through the years they maintained their friendship with typical phone calls and online correspondence. Denise was a popular teacher, highly respected by her students at Rutgers. The metaphorical connection tied to the depth of loss: the death of Denise from lung cancer, 9/11, the Gulf Oil Spill, the death of his mother, and the rapid decline of Lisicky's marriage - all disastrous for him. As Lisicky recovered from a painful bout with shingles, he questioned his inability to see or understand "the gauzy thickness" related to grief, and to "M" seeking the companionship of another man. "M" seems cruel in proclaiming the "gift" of his new lover, there is no comparison between the foundation of a stable marriage to the exciting thrill of a new lover. Lisicky was going through so much, yet "M" seemed unable to comfort or offer much support; instead suggesting that Lisicky could write about their marriage, it would be good material for the book he was writing. A quick search online reveals "M"s identity: his fame and celebrity afforded them a higher standard of living, which Liscky recalled in detail, yet it wasn't enough to hold them together. This is truly an outstanding book and highly recommended. ~ With thanks to the Seattle Public Library.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Sue

    How can I describe this book that is so beautiful I didn’t want to finish? The braided narrative shifts around in time and place and goes back and forth between Lisicky’s platonic friendship with novelist Denise Gess and his relationship with his husband, also a writer, whom he calls M. He and Gess are best friends, forever connected by phone calls, emails and visits, deeply involved in each other’s books. But she has cancer, and Lisicky's marriage is shaky. Relationships are hard to maintain wh How can I describe this book that is so beautiful I didn’t want to finish? The braided narrative shifts around in time and place and goes back and forth between Lisicky’s platonic friendship with novelist Denise Gess and his relationship with his husband, also a writer, whom he calls M. He and Gess are best friends, forever connected by phone calls, emails and visits, deeply involved in each other’s books. But she has cancer, and Lisicky's marriage is shaky. Relationships are hard to maintain when the parties are competing in the same difficult occupation. Lisicky is honest about the jealousy that comes when one is more successful than another, but ultimately it's not about work; it's about people. The events in this book are stark, but the words are like a long poem. I didn’t like all the moving around at first. I had to keep checking what year it was and what location we were in, but after a while I could see how well the arrangement worked to tell the stories offered here.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Stephen Kiernan

    Half a lifetime ago I knew Paul in school, where he was quietly brilliant and sensitive. Now he has written a memoir about a wild, inspirational friend -- how she motivated him, challenged him, frustrated him, energized him, then broke his heart by dying young. Her spirit is all through these pages, but so is the story of a man finding his literary voice, and his strong true self. If you are a fan of self-scouring, melodramatic memoir, this is not your book. But if you like a subtle mind and wis Half a lifetime ago I knew Paul in school, where he was quietly brilliant and sensitive. Now he has written a memoir about a wild, inspirational friend -- how she motivated him, challenged him, frustrated him, energized him, then broke his heart by dying young. Her spirit is all through these pages, but so is the story of a man finding his literary voice, and his strong true self. If you are a fan of self-scouring, melodramatic memoir, this is not your book. But if you like a subtle mind and wise heart, treat yourself.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Ben Hess

    The book's structure - bouncing back and forth and around in time - is something I've tried as well, with much less success. Once I got used to the structure, I just let the immaculate description, depth, and detail of Lisicky's scenes unfold before me. Given the weight of the book's content, I took my time with it, and read it over a much longer period than I normally would. The prose is dynamite, the language sublime.

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