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Story Review: Edgemont Drive by E.L. Doctorow

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image from The New Yorker; credits to Getty Images (left photo) and Nadine Rovner (right photo)

Edgemont Drive is the story of an old man who returns to the house he used to own. The house – a Colonial – is currently owned by a married couple and their three boys. The story begins with a conversation between the husband and the wife – the wife tells the husband about the old man who has been parking in front of the house for three days already, doing nothing but stare, with a heap of his belongings inside his car: an old Ford Falcon.

In fact, the story is told through conversations: between husband and wife, old man and wife, old man and husband, and so on. All dialogue, no narration. But what is so engaging about Edgemont Drive is that, unlike similarly formatted stories that are poorly written, the dialogue will not confuse the reader. From the conversations, the participants, the setting, and the situation can be so easily inferred. And the exchanges were all fluid and continuous, it was a little disappointing when I realized I have come to the end of the story.

When people speak of a haunted house, they mean ghosts flitting about in it, but that’s not it at all. When a house is haunted—what I’m trying to explain—it is the feeling you get that it looks like you, that your soul has become architecture, and the house in all its materials has taken you over with a power akin to haunting. As if you, in fact, are the ghost. And as I look at you, a kind, lovely young woman, part of me says not that I don’t belong here, which is the truth, but that you don’t belong here. I’m sorry, that’s quite a terrible thing to say. It merely means—

It means life is heartbreaking.

Consider this my tribute to E.L. Doctorow, a great author whose death reminds me that I am the loser who has not read a single book from him yet. Except for this beautiful short story.

The old man’s deep attachment to an old house where he spent his childhood is haunting, at least for me. The effects of this sentimentality on the current occupants of the house are unexpected, and more so because of the suddenness and permanence, at the same time. The wife sees it as a pilgrimage; the husband sees it as sentimental nonsense, disturbing and creepy to say the least. The differences in their personalities are provoked, the stability of their marriage rocked. And whether the old man had intended to or not, his desire to visit the house that he had “continued to live in mentally,” as he put it, changes their lives.

It’s as if I were squared off, dimensionalized in these rooms, as if I were the space contained by these walls, the passageways, the fixed routes of going to and fro, from one room to another, and everything lit predictably by the times of day and the different seasons. It is all and indistinguishably . . . me.

Rating: 5/5
Collected in: All The Time In The World: New and Selected Stories
Read the story online HERE.

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