The book takes a toll. The high drama sometimes wore me out —- I think my life is intense, but these people are professionals —- and yet that serves the book. In the inevitable deathbed chapter, life slowed for me as it did for everyone in that room: 'time without boundaries.' Sure, I cried, and often. But more, The Narrow Door made me want to call a few people, and say the magic words, and feel at home in the world. It’s hard to think of a book that can give you more than that.
In many ways this memoir’s real theme is fame: the way a hunger for it or a proximity to it can consume and even ruin a writer’s life, as well as the very specific ways that famous writers shaped Gess’s and Lisicky’s lives and their friendship.
Lisicky explores love and friendship with what I kept thinking of as an 'expert vulnerability,' and the result is intimate and simultaneously heart-rending and heart-mending recapitulation of a friendship and a lifetime.
The beauty of his prose — his acutely attuned voice and sense of rhythm — allows him to bridge scenes that are decades apart, weaving Denise Gess’s descent into illness with the turbulence in his personal life, thereby titrating the tension, as well as the grief.
Part elegy, part natural history, and all memoir, The Narrow Door traces two of Lisicky’s long-term relationships, the first with Gess, and the second with Lisicky’s ex-husband, a poet he calls M. The Gess friendship, plunging between support and competition (writers!), takes center stage. It is a road paved with heartfelt correspondence yet pocked by silences, sore spots.
By turns raw, wry, and meditative, Lisicky offers a painfully honest accounting of his own failures and limitations; ultimately, this is the story of how a heart opens, and the endless, literally death-defying work of keeping it that way.
If there's any justice in the literary world, The Narrow Door, Lisicky's fifth book and first work of nonfiction, will be the blockbuster that his talent deserves. It's as close to perfect as any book I've read ... a memoir that's a wide-open window to the complexities of love, loss, and being human.
“The Narrow Door is meticulous in its description of grief and loss, and never shies from the full complexity and range of emotion in Lisicky’s relationship with Gess. And yet, there’s a sense that Lisicky is holding back when it comes to his relationship with M — there’s something missing.