Review: Beyond the Door

Beyond the Door
Beyond the Door by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The cuckoo clock is the object of a struggle between two régimes: the mechanical and the machinic (in the sense of Deleuze and Guattari’s “desiring machines”). Larry embodies the mechanical régime: the clock is an object of consumption, the acquisition made in a favorable economic transaction. It has a job to do, and should respect its specifications, or be coerced into doing so. For Doris the clock is an experience tied to memory (“like my mother had”) and to desire. Larry’s expectations are prosaic, the clock should tell the time correctly, and Doris should be glad to have got what she wanted. Doris’s approach is animistic, she immediately has an emotional reaction, begins to fantasize, personifies the cuckoo, desires to associate Bob with the experience.

As the clock is an antique and Bob is interested in antiques (and in Doris) perhaps Larry was not being totally utilitarian in his choice of present, perhaps the clock was part of an erotic contest with Bob to win Doris’s desire. Bob seems to be younger (“that young punk”), to have lots of free time (he accompanies her to the stores while Larry is working) and to have an expensive hobby (“antiques”) and a time consuming one (“books”). Larry works hard, including doing overtime, and would like to be admired for his business acumen in acquiring the clock “wholesale”.

The playing out of the plot seems to be a repetition of a preceding triangle. Doris’s mother had such a clock “when Pete was still alive”. Larry sees his wife, Bob, and the clock as forming a triangle of desire: “They would be quite happy together, Bob and Doris and the cuckoo”. Larry too has begun to fantasize around the cuckoo.
Doris is not innocent in all this. She does not regret that Larry works to much, but is upset that he sometimes breaks routine by calling to see if everything is alright. She flirts with the cuckoo just as she flirts with Bob, and puts up no protest when Larry kicks her out, presumably just moving in with Bob. The cuckoo fulfils her wish of being rid of Larry, just as her mother (perhaps) got rid of Pete. So Doris has a cuckoo aspect too, in that the cuckoo female is alleged to change its mates frequently. When Bob, at the end, wonders if Larry’s death was not an accident but “something else”, we automatically think that the missing term is deliberate (i.e. murder), but another antonym to accident could well be “law”. In which case he should beware of what happens next. Doris may be following a law of her nature even more stifling and imperious than Larry’s mechanical routine, and more dangerous.

Doris feels her reactions are fair self-defence against Larry’s patriarchal monologue: “After all, she couldn’t keep listening to him forever without defending herself; you had to blow your own trumpet in the world”. The cuckoo too couldn’t listen to Larry’s threats forever, and “defended” itself.

The title phrase “beyond the door” is associated with the behaviour of the cuckoo, remaining inaccessible and aloof: “someplace inside the clock, beyond the door, silent and remote”. This inside space it withdraws to connotes domesticity, whereas Larry is subject to the law of the outside, of the workplace, which involves renunciation and compromising of desire: “But it isn’t fair. It’s your job to come out. We all have to do things we don’t like.” The cuckoo, like Doris, does not wish to bend to this law. Doris wishes to defend herself and to “blow her own trumpet in the world”.


The text of the story is available here.

Very interesting review here.

SFFaudio Podcast review:


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