Closing The Door Between, I note that the novel was once listed in Ireland's Register of Prohibited Publications. How an obscure Canadian paperback came to the attention of their Censorship of Publications Board remains something of a mystery, though I'm led to believe it had something to do with an alert customs officer. That the Board placed it on its Register, is more easily explained. Yes, The Door Between features pre-marital sex, voyeurism and at least a couple of allusions to masturbation, but there's a good deal more that would cause a censor to pop his monocle. Moving past the well-scrubbed, antiseptic couch romps shared by Bruce and Sheila we find relationships in which sex and violence are invariably entwined.
The first glimpse we're given comes courtesy of Clara, Bruce's downstairs neighbour, who gets off on being knocked around by her husband. The morning after Bruce's arrival, the nightgown-wearing battered wife corners Bruce in the rooming house hallway, teasing: "Bet you'd like to beat the hell out of me, wouldn't you?"
Jump to Vera, who shares a loveless sex life with Jake, one of the three men in her fawning entourage. "It is zee glandular love", she sighs. "I suppose it will have to do until zee real love comes along. Some day he vill come to me, zee lover I need. He vill be strong and filty; he vill beat me and kiss me and feel everything – everything!" When one of her lapdogs dares describe her as a masochist, she responds: "I am not to be labelled. You can say I am zee masochist, I am zee sadist, I am zee pervert – anything that pleases you. But all I really am is zee voman. How do you explain zat?"
Zee voman from Vienna is more easily understood, I think, than the ending of Perrin's novel. The climax is spoiled somewhat by the back cover, which tells us that the door between Felicia and Bruce will be opened, adding: "From that moment until the fateful New Year's Eve of 1949-50, Felicia and Bruce were hopelessly entangled in a strange love too powerful, too demanding, for either of them to fight it."
As I say, spoiled somewhat; the description is far from accurate. Felicia and Bruce don't meet until the final chapter, and their sexual entaglement lasts barely five pages. That strange, powerful, demanding love they share? Well, even Bruce recognizes that it doesn't exist.
Queen Elizabeth Way in the spring of 1949, eight or so months before Sheila's New Year's Eve drive.
After a few days with Felicia, thoughts turn increasingly to Sheila. Bruce sends her a Christmas card, they make plans to meet on New Year's Eve and he dumps Felicia. The reunion is delayed by inclement weather slowing traffic along the Queen Elizabeth Way. As Bruce awaits Sheila's arrival, Felicia brings a man back to her room. Bruce breaks down the door, throws Felicia's pick-up down the stairs and starts slapping her around. The much-delayed Sheila chooses this moment to arrive at the rooming house:
Again Bruce hit Felicia, and then again. Then he raised his fists and showered them on her, blow after blow. Moaning softly in pain, Felicia went down at his feet. Bruce's fingers, quivering, grasped her throat and began to strangle her."I hate you," he whispered. "I hate you!"Sheila sprang forward into the room."Bruce!" she cried.He stopped, turned to face her, still holding Felicia's throat between his hands, dragging her after him."Sheila!""Let her alone, Bruce. Come with me.""Sheila, I –""Please, Bruce. Drop her!"Automatically, Bruce did as he was told. Felicia crawled away from him, whimpering into a dark corner of the room.
The pair leave the rooming house, presumably stepping over the man Bruce attacked, lying still, an "inert lump" at the bottom of the stairs.
"Something has happened to me here in this house, Sheila," said Bruce."Something weird and wonderful""I don't care what it was, Bruce, so long as we are together.""Kiss me, Sheila."They kissed and there were tears in Sheila's eyes."I want to marry you," said Bruce. "Will you marry me?""Oh, I will, darling! Just give me half a chance!"
That little bit of awkwardness out of the way, the newly betrothed join happy, singing young people walking down Spadina Avenue. Bruce spots Vera and her pals, grabs Sheila's hand and begins to run, yelling: "Hey, gang, wait for me, wait for me!"
These are Perrin's last words, bringing to an end one of the most peculiar Canadian novels I've ever read.
How do you explain zat?
Related post: Toronto's Tortured Sexual Souls