Selected by The New Yorker
as one of “The Best Books of 2022 So Far” – October 26, 2022
“You ask whether I shall discuss ‘man’…I think I shall avoid the whole subject as so surrounded with prejudices, though I fully admit that it is the highest and most interesting problem for the naturalist.” (Charles Darwin to Alfred Wallace, 12/22/1857)
A mix of historical fact and fiction, The Door-Man is based on actual events that took place at the town of Gilboa, NY, during the construction of the Schoharie Reservoir in 1917.
That year, as work was beginning on the dam, there was a discovery of fossils in the sandstone quarries. A young paleontologist named Winifred Goldring (1888-1971) made the identification of an ancient forest flooded during the Devonian Period, 350-400 million years ago when the earth’s botanical explosion of oxygen opened the evolutionary path for humankind. However, the reservoir water was needed by New York City, and the fossils were soon lost again in the flooding of the doomed town of Gilboa.
The novel is a fictionalized account of the fossil discovery and its aftermath. Narrated by a disaffected NYC doorman during the decommissioning of the Central Park Reservoir in 1993, The Door-Man traces the consequences across three generations of the flooded town, the patronized woman who made the fossil identification, and the violence that occurred in the clash of Nature and the City.
The brief and provisional nature of one’s life on earth – as well as the nested histories of the places, people and events that give meaning to it – forms the backdrop to a reckoning with “Deep Time” within the tangled roots and fragile bonds of family.
“The Door-Man is Jamesian in the best ways. Wheelwright’s skill in managing the trickiness of the multi-generational novel is laudable.”
Kurt Andersen, author of Evil Geniuses and Fantasyland
“…Families, as Kinsolver’s great-aunt observes, are “like rivers, flowing in separate courses toward a shared sea, always to meet again.” Will readers of The Door-Man be reminded of the observation of the author of War and Peace that “each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”? Quite possibly, for this is a searing chronicle of man’s inhumanity to each other and to the natural world. That Wheelwright, whose first novel, As It Is on Earth, was awarded a PEN/Hemingway Honorable Mention for Literary Excellence in Debut Fiction in 2013, makes this story life affirming and even love affirming is something of a man-made wonder.”
Heidi Mastrogiovanni, New York Journal of Books
“Good fiction opens new dimensions and perspectives on our existence, and Peter Wheelwright opens many in The Door-Man that will be of particular interest to New Yorkers and New York Staters: the history of Central Park and of the city’s water system, the emergence of the first forests 380 million years ago in the now flooded town of Gilboa; the dioramas and specimen cases of the American Museum of Natural History, the sanctum sanctorum of the planet’s animal diversity; with visits to the Miccosukie people of the Everglades. All in the course of the gripping three-generation saga of an extended family that includes murder, incest, bastard siblings, and all kinds of other skeletons in the closet. A frothy bouillabaisse of narrative history and imaginative storytelling.”
Alex Shoumatoff, literary journalist, author, and editor of Dispatchesfromthevanishingworld.com
“The interlaced stories are as striated as the lands they depict. They include controversies over public projects, matters of science, and the pull of history on ordinary lives…Evocative questions about what’s erased and what’s remade. Avoiding easy resolutions, The Door-Man is a luminous historical novel about patriarchal mistakes, women’s loves, and haunted sons…5 of 5 Stars!“
Karen Rigby, Foreword Reviews
Wheelwright is a thoughtful, meticulous writer with a fondness for elegant sentences, and his novel offers melancholic, philosophical musings on the frailties of one of Earth’s successful species: Homo Sapiens. A scientifically intriguing, dramatic, and challenging read.
The Door-Man is a big, deep, beautiful book that ponders the mysteries of identity and existence–where we’re from and what we are, and the hidden forces that bind people together and drive them apart. Peter Wheelwright has written a riveting multigenerational saga that is also a meditation on time itself–what it gives and what it takes, and ultimately, what endures.
Catherine Chung, author of Forgotten Country and The Tenth Muse
“A suspenseful reflection on identity and memory, with their unsparing strangeness and dreamlike fragility, The Door-Man intimates that while time does not heal all, it does elicit forgiveness. Wheelwright reminds us that, like memory itself, life does not progress steadily without opposition, but occurs in unexpected leaps and bounds, seemingly random and always incomplete. A complex and thoughtful book.”
Susanna Moore, Author of In the Cut and Miss Aluminum-A Memoir
“Wheelwright conjures another time and world, a once-here historical intrigue as poignant as memory. Filled with insight, deft detail, wry wit, The Door-Man is exactly the novelistic embrace we need in our agitated bewilderment.”
John Reed, author of A Still Small Voice and Snowball’s Chance
“Like Richard Powers and Barbara Kingsolver, Peter Matthiessen Wheelwright renders the inextricable connection between natural history and human history in this beautifully layered and richly imagined novel. Wheelwright’s perceptive and observant door-man, Kinsolver, is a wonderful repository of comings and goings, past and present. As much philosopher and identity sleuth as valet, he excavates the stories of three generations from their entanglement with the geologic history of upstate New York, thereby offering escape from repetition of an aberrant past. One gets the feeling that Wheelwright knows this territory in his bones!”
Paula Closson Buck, Author of Summer on the Cold War Planet
“Starting from the political intrigue, science, and mechanics of a massive public works project – the creation of a reservoir for New York City by flooding communities in the Catskills – The Door-Man is, at one level, a historical fiction, vibrant with the colors and controversies of the region from the early 20th century, and on this strength alone, it would hold us. But Wheelwright’s writing, so rich with detail, winds across generations and brings to life a vast array of characters—from muleskinners and paleontologists to murderers and a door man. We are swept into a swirling plot that is at once suspense story, speculative fiction, romance, and comedy. And it is more than these. Just as blasting the earth in a tiny upstate town reveals a history before history, setting in motion the quest to revive a primeval forest, Wheelwright’s novel takes us deep into human motivation and beyond it, to a concept of time that dwarfs us. Like his own award-winning As It Is On Earth, or like such classic U.S. novels as Steinbeck’s East of Eden, Cather’s My Antonia, or Roth’s American Pastoral, The Door-Man asks each of us to reflect on our place on these American lands and among the people we’ve variously misunderstood, loved, displaced, or forgotten.”
Derek Furr, Author of Suite for Three Voices and Semitones
…see Reviews (TD-M) for more