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Through the Pale Door

Brian Ray

Hub City Press
$14.95 paperback
5½ x 8½  
208 pages
February 2011

Sarah West takes a temporary job at her father’s South Carolina steel mill the summer before college, hoping for relief from the chaos of her psychotic and often institutionalized mother. But from the first day of June to the waning days of August, relief is the last thing Sarah finds. Soon after she moves into her separated father’s house—more like an industrial museum than a home—tragic news about her mother arrives.

The haunting funeral coincides with Sarah’s first love affair. Her lover is a fellow mill worker, a teenaged vigilante muralist named Edgewood who lives in an abandoned jail on the outskirts of town. Sarah and Edgewood share artistic gifts but hesitate at the door between adolescence and adulthood. While Edgewood struggles to develop confidence in his work, Sarah finds her own artistic endeavors haunted by grim yet compelling memories of growing up under the rule of an inexplicably deranged artist on one side and an oddly aloof, workaholic entrepreneur on the other.

Confronted with danger and death at the mill, Sarah and Edgewood bury themselves deep in their artwork. As their relationship grows, Edgewood helps Sarah overcome the loss of her mother. In the end, however, Sarah faces a greater challenge: domesticating her own inner demons while tending to her first lover’s uncertainty in himself.


  • Winner of the inaugural South Carolina First Novel Prize, sponsored by the S.C. Arts Commission
  • 2010 IPPY Award Winner - Gold For Best Regional Fiction


"This is a wonderfully powerful novel. I found myself not only wanting to go where the narrator was taking me, but also wanting merely to hear her speaking."
—Percival Everett, author of Erasure and The Water Cure
"If there were an annual Southern Gothic Fiction Award, Brian Ray's debut novel might win this year's. . . . Ray's characters may be unhinged, but his writing is far from it. And though it was a gamble to set a contemporary story in such a haunted, Poe-drenched world, the result is a quirky first novel that's not afraid to be itself—a modern, yet unabashedly romantic look at what happens when art and madness collide."
—Gina Webb of the Atlanta Journal Constitution
"It's funny, poignant and dark in a Tim Burton kind of way."
—Jeri Rowe of the Greensboro News-Record
"This story is so gently told, in a setting so beautifully grim, it's easy to forget this is a debut novel."
—Teresa Weaver in the July issue of Atlanta magazine
"Ray finds comic moments, mainly in the dialogue, and holds nothing sacred when it comes time for a well-deserved laugh. . . . Ray is a talent to watch."
—Booklist, starred review
"Ray has created a beautiful first novel with a musicality to its tone and a charm to its characters that is refreshingly universal—by that I mean everything wasn't chalked up to being southern. The style is original and the book was a pleasure to read and I hope we see more from him soon."
—JC Robertson of the Southern Literary Review