By: Conrad Bishop and Elizabeth Fuller Publisher: WordWorkers Press Publication Date: June 2019 ISBN: 978-0-9997287-2-7 Reviewed by: Barbara Bamberger Scott Review Date: March 2019
A mystery hidden within a house of a hundred and sixty rooms and the interlocking lives of its inhabitants, builders and explorers, dead and alive, this fascinating character study is the work of an author/playwright duo who are as drawn to its themes as its readers will be.
Raymond Smollet is a bitter man, with reason. He never found real love, either of the passionate kind he sought with other men or the etheric caring sort he longed for in the women in his life. But furthermore, he went blind while still in his prime. His only consolation is that even without sight, he can still do his job – leading tours through a California mansion known as Weatherlee House. The legend is that Sophia Weatherlee, a widow who had lost her only child, was told by a psychic advisor that she could only stay alive and sane if she were constantly within the sound of hammering. So she transformed a modest mansion into a giant, incomprehensibly complex labyrinth. Smollet doesn’t need sight to navigate through the house; from memory “I could see the woodwork, the turrets, the exquisite dadoes, the iridescent glow of the Tiffany windows.” Until one day, the day he realizes will be the last one of his life, leading a tour that marks his retirement, he sees Sophia Weatherlee, staring at him “with her deep, ancient, knowing eyes.”
As he continues the tour, convinced he is hallucinating or worse, a drama unfolds. Smollet “meets” Chuck, Sophia’s young workman who reminds him of his first love, and Chuck’s girlfriend Dee, a stand-in perhaps for all of Smollet’s female companions. Chuck was the master builder of Weatherlee for nearly four decades, reluctant to give up his role after her demise, but long since estranged from Dee, who became a faithful secretary to the decrepit old woman. As Smollet pushes onward, the tentacles of their lives entwine with his failed hopes and dreams. But the end of the tour will be nothing like he imagines.
The pairing of Bishop and Fuller is a magical one. They have written pieces of the same story before, in their intriguing drama, Hammers, which features the house’s ghosts and its modern visitors, but not the tour guide. In this iteration, they allow us to see this incredible saga through the eyes of a blind man who has his own ghosts to deal with. It’s a brilliant opus, melding the past, present, and future with intimate, individual viewpoints from a tightly arrayed cast of believable characters in as eerie a setting as might be dredged out of everyman’s subconscious searching. Yet it is based in fact: Sarah Winchester built just such a jumbled maze in San Jose, California, after the deaths of her husband and child, for reasons only guessed at. Yet it is a construction both outer and inner that has its grip on Bishop and Fuller, and the reader can only be grateful.
Quill says: Blind Walls offers a weird alternative world, featuring a blind man with second sight and an acerbic wit as its charming, empathic hero.