Stillman's Maze

The Locked Room  




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The Locked Room takes it title from the popular detective fiction mystery of a dead body found in locked room with no other entrances, but, in keeping with the ideas presented in the first two books of The New York Trilogy, it is transformed into a metaphor about a character/reader's relationship to a text—a book becomes a locked room because of the character/reader's inability to escape the control of the author. This story also features a detective as its protagonist, although he is a detective in a much looser sense of the word. It is also the only book in the Trilogy where the protagonist is not given a name and where the story is told from a first person point of view, which emphasizes the greater control over the text that the character achieves by the end of the book.

The story begins with the protagonist receiving a letter from a childhood friend of his who he has not seen in years, which leads to the discovery that this man, named Fanshawe (the title of an autobiographical novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne) has now disappeared and left behind a trove of unpublished literary treasures. The protagonist steps in to help get the poems and novels published as requested in the letter, and eventually ends up marrying Fanshawe's wife and adopting his child. Things seem to be going well, given the odd circumstances, until the protagonist receives a letter from Fanshawe, which seems to hint that not only did he disappear on purpose, but that he has been watching the events following his disappearance unfold, and, even more ominously, that he intended all along for his friend to take over his role as father and husband. The protagonist decides that he must confront Fanshawe, so that he can try to understand why his friend has done this to him, and also so that he can reestablish control over the events in his life. Every word in this story is important to the overall structure of the novel; the last paragraph is perhaps the most important one in the whole Trilogy.

There is so much that is left out of these brief descriptions that I often question the point in writing them at all. I felt the same way when I wrote my thesis on the Trilogy, which was, of course, much longer than the blurbs that I have written for these pages. Suffice it to say that the books will speak for themselves. The same issues and themes run through them all, but they examined from such different angles that sometimes it takes you a while to understand the ideas that link them. I have never read these books and felt the same way about them that I did the previous time I read them. They change, even day to day, to fit the experiences, the mood, and the personality of the person reading them, which is, I think what all great books do, and which is their ultimate acheivement.


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