Unadulterated Humanity: Roman Sauls Reviews Thomas Calder’s The Wind Under The Door

Ford Carson, the cynical protagonist of Thomas Calder’s The Wind Under The Door, is a father and collage artist facing the twilight of his life on the heels of his fortieth birthday. Boasting an estranged ex-wife and kid, Ford lives a lonely, tempestuous life in the stoic mountains of North Carolina. He revels in the unfurled nature of his present by beginning an extramarital affair with Grace Burnett, a Texas transplant that is as distant and elusive as Ford himself. The series of mistakes and poor decisions Ford makes throughout the novel paint a sober picture of a man at mid-life, a human being trying desperately to reap meaning out of chaos and disorder.

It's this uncanny ability to depict moments of true and unadulterated humanity that is the undoubted triumph of Calder’s style. Early on in the novel, Ford’s approached by JR Burnett, Grace’s husband, who tells him bluntly he knows about the affair. Our readerly instincts might lead us to expect an altercation, a confrontation, even a fist-fight, if needed, but Calder usurps those expectations. JR simply allows Ford to continue sleeping with his wife because he knows Ford is just mere fun and that he will be the last man standing. This brief interaction reflects the two men against each other, JR as a serious, traditional opposite to Ford’s more dysfunctional personality. It’s a confrontation of a more adult kind, the undramatic recognition of what these two people simply are. Indeed, we come to more fully understand Ford’s humanity through JR’s opposition as Grace deserts Ford and the affair in the final movements of the book and forces our protagonist to confront his own naivety and foolishness.

Aside from this affair with Grace, Ford struggles to maintain a relationship with his ex-wife and child as they’re separated by miles and miles of oceanfront from his apartment in Asheville, North Carolina to their home in Cocoa Beach, Florida. This distance is physical and emotional, though, as Ford tries desperately to connect to his son, Bailey, on the eve of his eighteenth birthday. His attempts to do so are familiar to us, with Ford trying to relate to Bailey’s hobby and passion for surfing, as well as his musical tastes. We watch Ford amble clumsily through fatherhood. But, in a disarming turn, Bailey requests to come up to Asheville to celebrate his birthday instead of Ford coming down to Cocoa Beach, as has been tradition. The unexpected visit turns things on its head as Ford scrambles to get a gift that will not only surprise but impress his son.

He decides, finally, that he’s going to make a collage for Bailey, an artistic interpretation of the album The Suburbs by Arcade Fire. In moments where Ford is alone in the novel, we follow the efforts to construct this gift in a process that is sporadic and fraught. As we watch Ford shamble together the collage, we reflect on the he has shambled himself together, on the way the disparate threads of his life exist alongside one another without ever interacting to a great extent. It’s no secret, naturally, that his career of being a collage artist reflects his inability to correlate these messy remnants of his middle-aged life, as well as the book’s own vignette-like structure.

And if there is a deficiency in the novel’s wholeness, it might be this disjunctive nature. The chapters read as episodes, as entry points, into Ford’s life rather than building blocks toward a more holistic conclusion. We come to understand him in pieces. His affair with Grace seems to reflect his inability to maintain an untroubled, uncomplicated love life while his failed relationship with Bailey seems to indicate his failures as a father. And while the two characters do interact toward the book’s end, the moment is brief and somewhat glossed, leaving the reader with want for more.

But perhaps it is this nagging feeling of want that is best to take away from Calder’s novel. Ford is a classically unsatisfied middle-aged man, whose failures in love and in life have caught up to him in his present. We examine our own failures and our own mistakes as we read this book, as if Ford’s humanity and Calder’s expression of it allows us to feel secure and validated in our own messiness, in our own disorder. The Wind Under The Door is a compelling, complex exploration of what it means to live and love fully, even if we still don’t know how to at forty, fifty, or sixty. It’s a book that revels in the embarrassments of failure and grossness of hurt, and, scene by scene, we better understand that it is not only okay to be imperfect, but that it may be the most human thing to be, at all.

To order The Wind Under the Door, click here. To read Calder's collage work in Miracle Monocle, click here

ROMAN SAULS is a genre editor of Miracle Monocle.