Jun 15, 2011

Review: The Storm at the Door by Stefan Merrill Block (TLC Book Tour)

The past is not past for Katharine Merrill. Even after two decades of volatile marriage, Katharine still believes she can have the life that she felt promised to her by those first exhilarating days with her husband, Frederick. For two months, just before Frederick left to fight in World War II, Katharine received his total attentiveness, his limitless charms, his astonishing range of intellect and wit. Over the years, however, as Frederick’s behavior and moods have darkened, Katharine has covered for him, trying to rein in his great manic passions and bridge his deep wells of sadness: an unending project of keeping up appearances and hoping for the best. But the project is failing. Increasingly, Frederick’s erratic behavior, amplified by alcohol, distresses Katharine and their four daughters and gives his friends and family cause to worry for his sanity. When, in the summer of 1962, a cocktail party ends with her husband in handcuffs, Katharine makes a fateful decision: She commits Frederick to Mayflower Home, America’s most revered mental asylum.

There, on the grounds of the opulent hospital populated by great poets, intellectuals, and madmen, Frederick tries to transform his incarceration into a creative exercise, to take each meaningless passing moment and find the art within it. But as he lies on his room’s single mattress, Frederick wonders how he ever managed to be all that he once was: a father, a husband, a business executive. Under the faltering guidance of a self-obsessed psychiatrist, Frederick and his fellow patients must try to navigate their way through a gray zone of depression, addiction, and insanity.

Meanwhile, as she struggles to raise four young daughters, Katharine tries to find her way back to Frederick through her own ambiguities, delusions, and the damages done by her rose-colored belief in a life she no longer lives.

Inspired by elements of the lives of the author’s grandparents, this haunting love story shifts through time and reaches across generations. Along the way, Stefan Merrill Block stunningly illuminates an age-old truth: even if one’s daily life appears ordinary, one can still wage a silent, secret, extraordinary war.
~ from Amazon

My Thoughts:

There are a lot of words that have been used to describe this unique book based on the lives of the author's grandparents: lucid, heart-wrenching, passionate, fascinating.  I would have to agree that all of those words aptly describe this book. It's also been described as a 'beautiful love story', but I have to admit I do not see it as such. Granted, I do not read a lot of books in the romance genre, but this, to me, is not what I consider a love story.

I honestly did not know what to expect before I started reading THE STORM AT THE DOOR. I knew the foundation for the story, but I had no idea where Stefan Merrill Block was going to take me. As I started reading, I was looking forward to getting to know the characters and connect with them. However, I was disappointed when half-way through the book, I still hadn't developed an emotional connection with either Katherine or Frederick. I had compassion for both of them on a general level but not the deep connection I was anticipating.

I believe that one reason I lacked a connection was the sterile, almost clinical writing of the author, in my opinion. The chapters alternate between Katherine and Frederick's viewpoints yet I didn't feel passion coming from either person. 

That being said, the second half of the book garnered more interest from me than the first and I began to get immersed in the story, especially Frederick's experiences in the asylum and the repercussions he endured due to information he discovered about Dr. Cannon, who was in charge of the hospital.  

Stefan Merrill Block shares a difficult story focusing on his grandfather's mental illness and the subsequent journey his family endured during those years in the 1960's. He brings to light that in those days people suffering from Bipolar Disorder often went untreated or were simply labeled 'mentally ill'. Late in the book, Block even reveals some similarities between himself  and his grandfather.  

THE STORM AT THE DOOR is a troubling look at one man's life as he dealt with mental illness and the constant guilt and doubt that it brought to his wife after committing him to a hospital for the insane.  Instead of bringing her some measure of relief that Frederick was getting the help he needed, it made her question her decision and even the life she thought she had with her husband. 

I'd like to thank TLC Book Tours and Stefan Merrill Block for including me in this tour. Please visit TLC's website for other stops on the tour.  THE STORM AT THE DOOR will be released  June 21st from Random House. 

Author: Stefan Merrill Block
Publisher: Random House
Published: June 21, 2011
Pages: 368
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
Source: TLC Book Tours


  1. Sorry you didn't connect with the characters. What's sad is we still don't do a good job of treating bipolar disorder.

  2. I loved Block's first novel, The Story of Forgetting, which was also broken up by multiple viewpoints. I'm looking forward to this one.

  3. I'm really intrigued by the fact that this was based in part on the author's grandparents. Hopefully I'd have a better experience reading it than you did.

    Thanks for being a part of the tour. I hope your next read is a better fit for you.

  4. Wow, we really did have similar reactions to this book! I didn't think it was a love story either, and while it did deal with love in one sense, I certainly wouldn't call it a beautiful love story.

  5. I just read Anna's review and you both felt pretty much the same way. thanks so much for your honest thoughts on this one.


Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a comment! I look forward to hearing from you again soon!