The Willowdale HandcarThe Willowdale Handcar by Edward Gorey
My rating: 5/5 cats
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deeply vexing, indeed!

anyone who tells you, in a review of this book or in smug cocktail party conversation, that the black doll “pops up” or “follows” the characters around portending doom is the worst kind of liar ever.

i thought i’d missed something so i dusted off my highlights magazine hidden pictures skills


and spent half an afternoon where’s waldoing each page looking for that damn doll only to come to the conclusion that either these people are goldang liars, or delusional, or have some special edition of this book that i do not have.

let me save you an afternoon. the black doll is on the cover

and on this page here, in plain sight.

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the fact that this book is subtitled “The Return of the Black Doll” is likely referring to the fact that this doll is in other gorey books like here:

and here:

and here:

and is the basis for other characters throughout his work and as part of the larger gorey legend:

A life long friend of Edward Gorey’s made The Black Doll for him in 1942. Gorey visited her while she was making it and upon seeing it insisted on keeping it in its unfinished state, lacking a face, arms and clothing. In spite of her objection, Edward Gorey prevailed. It may be the first recorded instance of Gorey’s enduring dedication to engaging the imagination. The incomplete Black Doll has remained a recurring enigma for almost 70 years appearing in many of Gorey’s books and drawings as well as being the subject of his silent screenplay.

you can read all that and also buy yourself a stuffed black doll which you can staple onto any page of any book you want here:…

and yes, after being frustrated by not finding more damn dolls in this book, i did some research, which took up even more time and now i’m just playing right into gorey’s fun-loving little hands.

this is the kind of book that does that to you – whether you’re looking for dolls or not. it tells just enough of a story to tantalize and make the reader so certain there is something there that they are missing, and that they are so close to understanding! and maybe there is. but maybe it’s just gorey having a laugh and there isn’t any “deeper meaning” beyond what readers themselves supply in order to do that whole nod-and-chuckle combo and look down on the dummies who just don’t get it.

it’s full of that great gorey atmosphere of sinister and surreal. there’s the ostensible main, or foreground story in which very little happens:

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and the gimmick is that these characters are really just the distracted observers to the real story, which is all happening in the background or speeding by their handcar roadtrip. there’s enough to string together the guts of a story, but not enough to fill in all the gaps:

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and later:

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so, it’s fun to try to figure it all out, especially when taunted by the back cover copy (which also features a black doll, so that’s three)

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maybe my close-reading skills are rusty and dusty, but i’m willing to bet that this book is intended not as “a puzzle that can be deciphered” but as a fun mental roadtrip exercise that, like most of gorey‘s work, is meant to be a little mysterious.

but wait – is this the black doll here??

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i will closen it up for you:

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because if it is, and if that’s the scale and level of detail we’re dealing with, then that quest is all yours – you go ahead and find alllll the black dolls i missed and come back here with your eyes red and half-closed from squinting and i will genially admit that i am wrong and you are right and i will continue drinking my tea cozily under a nice warm blankie while you do a triumphant little dance until you exhaust yourself and fall over.

read my reviews on goodreads

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