Book Review. Stefan Merrill Block=My New Favorite Author

Book Review on The Storm at the Door by Stefan Merrill Block. Published by Random House.

In a time when so many novels are rewrites of old stories, The Storm at the Door is strikingly original. It’s plot as well as its writing are fresh, unique and flow with a simplicity that only day-to-day life can convey while contemplating a world that is far beyond our reach. Based on the true story of his maternal grandparents, Stefan Merrill Block has created a piece of fiction that contemplates the imbalance of love, the complexities of sanity, the limits of language and the weight of memory.


Fredrick Merrill, Block’s grandfather, is placed in a mental hospital by his wife after years of insistence from her family and friends. While Frederick contemplates ways to prove his sanity, his wife, Katherine, doubts her own. She struggles to raise four young girls on a dwindling savings account while constantly doubting her decision to institutionalize her husband. The close up of the family’s daily struggles are just a window to reveal much deeper issues of humanity.

The Depth

The plot of this novel is like the surface of the ocean. It’s vast and beautiful, fluid and translucent but beneath its surface is an unimaginable depth, thousands of seahorse and sharks, plants and animals, volcanoes and valleys. Beneath its surface is life.

This novel is so much more than a struggling love story. It’s about the pain that comes with unconditional love and the fogginess of sanity. It’s about the limits of our language and the limits of our ability to understand the world around us. It’s about deception and truth. It’s about staying connected after being torn apart. The Storm at our Door is a novel that no one will walk away from unchanged but everyone will be changed in a different way.

East-of-Eden-like Narrator

Similar to Steinbeck’s famous novel, Stefen Merrill Block narrates The Storm at the Door through his own eyes. In both novels, the narrators are young boys telling the story of their ancestors from a distant place. 

If you’re not familiar with East of Eden, let me explain. The Storm at the Door (like East of Eden) is narrated in the first person by the author himself, who appears as a very minimal character in the book (he is present maybe 10 out of the 342 pages). In the book, Block is fictionalizing the real-life story of his maternal grandparents. His grandfather was actually institutionalized in a mental hospital and although Block has no firsthand knowledge of the events, he researched his book by talking to relatives, reading his grandparents letters, but mostly by using his imagination.

Characters from a Metal Hospital

ImageThe colorful array of characters in the metal hospital add a unique flavor to the book without threatening the reliability. Block creates a wide variety of believable, insane characters. One, a ex-Harvard professor, is a schizophrenic who believes he is discovering the one true language of the universe. Another character, Robert Lowell (pictured left), is based on a real poet who was institutionalized in the same hospital as Block’s grandfather, the real Frederick Merrill. Block incorporates some of Lowell’s actually poetry in this novel. As the reader sees these characters through the perspective of Frederick, they all seem fairly sane. Although we may not be able to trust the reliability of the characters, the narrator is so distant (in time and space) from the events, we are at least able to trust him.


With this book, Block has cemented  himself as one of my favorite authors. His first novel, The Story of Forgetting is a remarkable story and The Storm at the Door stands right beside it. Not many novels touch the soul and intrigue the mind as much as Block’s. Everyone should read this book. FIVE STARS.



About Sarah JS

Aspiring writer, lover of words, book nerd, working editor, and permanent student of the world

Posted on June 12, 2014, in Book Review and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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