Book review: On the other side of the door

Riding a wedding day ROLLER-coaster crisis

By
October 3, 2019 17:05
3 minute read.
Book review: On the other side of the door

WEDDING DAYS can be explosive. Fire erupts from wedding cake at wedding.. (photo credit: EKATERINA ANCHEVSKAYA/REUTERS)

We don’t know much about Margie except for one firm fact: She does not want to get married. At least not now, not on the very day that 500 guests are expected at her wedding. 

“‘Not getting married. Not getting married. Not getting married,’ she recited in a flat, almost bored voice that sounded extremely distant and nebulous, like the final vapors of a scented cleaning spray,” the author of this delightful novella informs us on the opening page.

Those words are spoken from behind the locked door behind which Margie has fled. As the clock ticks down toward the planned wedding hour, she is not heard from again except in the cryptic form of a Leah Goldberg poem about a prodigal daughter that she scribbles on a piece of paper and slips under the door.

No, we don’t know much about Margie and we will never find out what drove her into the room. But the story is really less about Margie and more about the people on the other side of the locked door.

About them, we learn a great deal by their reactions to the wedding-day crisis unfolding in the modest Israeli apartment of Margie’s widowed mother, Nadia. 

Matti, the groom-to-be, “tried to ignore the elevator loaded with dark distress climbing up inside him, from the pit of his stomach to his neck.”

Pacing around the apartment wearing the glittery patent-leather wedding shoes Margie had made him purchase, against his better judgment, in one of the bridal shops on Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv, Matti periodically begs her to open the door or at least offer an explanation. Did Margie suddenly realize she doesn’t love him? And, in fact, does he love her?

As the day wears on, he starts to envy his fiancée. “He was not jealous of Margie, at the thought that she might prefer someone else to him, but he was terribly envious of her. Like her, he longed to lock himself behind a door, to put everything on hold.... For a moment he had the urge to go back to the hallway and beg her to open up again, but this time not to make her come out but to make her let him join her, so they could lock the door behind them both.”

Meanwhile, Matti’s parents, Arieh and Peninit, show up at Nadia’s apartment to help strategize. Both mothers are in a comical state of semi-dress for the wedding.

Peninit’s “red hair was braided into a high updo studded with pearls, stretching her painted eyebrows out toward her temples, but she wore a zip-up tracksuit top so as not to mess up her hairstyle.”

Nadia’s “fleshy shoulders... were encased in the tight-fitting, prickly lace sleeves of the light gray evening gown she had been trying on, at the hairstylist’s request, though her feet were absentmindedly clad in plaid winter slippers with zippers down the front. Her dyed blond quiff perked up in surprise over her forehead.”

Peninit makes a few calls and manages to connect with Julia, a psychologist from an emergency service called “Regretful Brides.” Because Julia feels it is crucial to talk to Margie face-to-face, Arieh calls a pal from the Israel Electric Corporation, who sends over his pal Adnan from the Palestinian Authority’s electrical company, with a ladder truck.

But Julia has a fear of heights and balks at going up the side of the building on the truck’s flimsy lift. Who will save the day and accompany Julia? That would be Ilan, the 21-year-old cross-dressing nephew of Nadia, and tender live-in caretaker of Nadia’s confused old mother, “Gramsy,” in the apartment next door.

Gramsy provides a brilliant foil to her granddaughter. Like Margie, she is locked inside a room – albeit of her own mind and not intentionally – and when she does speak, her meaning tends to be obscure.

“She was hard of hearing and generally ‘not with us,’ as Nadia put it, and throughout all these hours of waiting she had sustained a dazzling smile, full of the pearly white teeth inlayed by the dentist only a week earlier, in honor of the wedding.”
Nevertheless, ultimately it is Gramsy who may hold the key to unlocking her granddaughter’s despair.

And the Bride Closed the Door, published in 2016 in Hebrew, received the Israeli Brenner Prize the day before author Ronit Matalon’s death at the age of 58 the following year. The book was translated by Jessica Cohen, co-recipient of the 2017 Man Booker International Prize, with author David Grossman, for her translation of Grossman’s A Horse Walks into a Bar.


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