Book info

People Who Knock On The Door (2001)

People Who Knock on the Door (2001)
Rating
3.59 of 5 Votes: 1
ISBN
0393322432 (ISBN13: 9780393322439)
languge
English
genre
publisher
w. w. norton & company
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People Who Knock On The Door (2001)
People Who Knock On The Door (2001)

About book: This is probably one of the most difficult books I've ever had to review. The book itself wasn't difficult, I don't mean that but it was, well, really different. The book is about an average American family, the Aldermans, who are changed for the worse when Richard, the father, believes a miracle saved his son from strep throat and becomes a fundamentalist Christian, a "born-again," as they are called throughout the book. His oldest son, Arthur, thinks he's lost his mind and ridicules and disrespects his new beliefs (and his church friends and acquaintances) and hopes it will all just blow over. Robbie, the youngest Alderman, immediately takes to his father's new set of beliefs and becomes a "letter-of-the-law" follower; Robbie sees no shades of grey but rather, only black and white, right and wrong, righteous or sinful. His ideas of justice are also quite firm, unforgiving, merciless and fast-moving no matter who he thinks needs to be on the receiving end of said justice. Lois, Richard's wife and Arthur's mother, seems to just want to keep the peace but her own beliefs are below the surface, as not to interfere with her husband's new found faith. The strange part of this book is that when I began reading it, I was sure it was set in the 1950's. The language and imagery so matched my idea that I imagined, very vividly, Lois standing in her pink, Mamie Eisenhower kitchen. Then? Arthur mentioned Reagan and his push to eliminate some of hte college funding he depended on and I realized I was way off. I kind of had a hard time readjusting to the idea that I was 30 years, give of take, off from what Highsmith intended. But, I decided to soldier on and eventually the quirky descriptions, dialogues and scenery was really endearing, no matter how macabre the story line eventually ventured. This book certainly isn't for everyone. A reader would have to have an open-mind for an author who is stylistically different than anyone they've likely read before. But, if one can settle into that, these characters, their interactions and situations that reside just outside the family are intriguing and make the book hard to put down; it certainly was for me, anyhow!

Richard Alderman finds some relief in religious fervor, from the boredom and frustration of his life selling insurance in Reagan's America. His sanctimonious new attitude clashes with one teenage son, and profoundly confuses another. Naturally, this doesn't end well.Rich subject matter but the dialogue and plot were plodding: too much focus on the one son and his teen love affair, and how he strives to be a decent normal person who believes in science and evolution. The real action was with the father, who was relegated to the role of a caricature and small time villain. I was far more interested in the father's despair, and would have liked to see some scenes with him alone with the prostitute he was trying to 'save', but ended up getting her pregnant. And some scenes with the church folk talking about politics, Reagan etc. Abortion plays a big part in the story but it doesn't hit hard, nothing like what was really going on(and still does) with the fanatics. They're just too nice and polite about it.Highsmith missed the marks: scene after scene of the one son working, eating pie, drinking beer with his equally good friend, studying, going to the library etc. One reviewer called it Leave it to Beaver. There's a short scene where Arthur, the good son, is in his school lounge and Reagan is on TV, but Highsmith doesn't include any part of his speech; a missed opportunity to add some context,since Reagan's speeches were exemplars of the extreme corniness tinged with menace of Evangelical language and thinking.Highsmith had all the framework set up to really stick it to the Reagan era moral majority types but instead constructed a weak morality tale.
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Reviews
Judith
"Strangers on a Train" and "The Talented Mr. Ripley" are the two books I read and thoroughly enjoyed prior to this one. Patricia Highsmith is a genius at suspense and believable quirky characters. So I waded patiently through the book till something finally happened, but by then it was too little too late. A father of two sons becomes a born again Christian overnight and converts one of the sons. This drives a wedge through the family, leaving the other son as a demon and the mother as an ineffective peace-keeper. Then something happens. End of story.
Jody Julian
First, in all of Highsmith's books, everyone drinks copiously. It's just a given that there will be a gin and tonic offered at every social gathering. And, all of her books do have a 1950's feel, no matter what signs of the times she attempts to add to the plot. It's part of her kitsch and makes it all the more warped. Picture a son on the brink of death and a dad who is praying fervently by his bedside. When the son survives, the father turns into a hard core born again Christian. His cult-like fixation eventually turns into its own horror story. This is Arthur's story, though. He's an older teen on the cusp of adulthood. It sounds like a regular coming of age novel, but add the father's zealous beliefs and let the games begin.
Bibliophile
A peculiar book, even for Highsmith. I had to keep reminding myself that the events took place in the early 80s rather than the 50s. Maybe it's easier for Americans who were around during the Reagan years to relate. The plot: 17-year old Arthur's father becomes a very unpleasant born again Christian. His mother tries to keep the peace, younger brother Robbie (already a little worm-drowning-psycho) sides with Dad, leaving Arthur alone to combat the craziness. Not sure how realistic the characters are. How many teenagers casually down G&Ts with their elderly neighbour? Arthur acts more like a middle-aged man than a high school student, yet foolishly gets his girlfriend pregnant. Once his father leaves him out in the cold, he takes it remarkably well and doesn't show a lot of emotion. Oh, wait, this is Highsmith. People act weird. Odd, but creepy and funny.
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