According to promotional material, M. L. Collins’ new book Out the Door! is a satirical novel about “geology, sex, politics, the environment, prairie voles, cheese curds, casinos, aphrodisiacs, sturgeon, trilobites, herring gulls, Hat Island, a bit of mystery and more!” A critic might reasonably wonder whether Ms. Collins or any other writer could handle all of these subjects in one volume, but Collins likes to keep her eccentricity on full display.
Out the Door! centers on Aida Madland, the author of 27 raunchy romance novels with titles such as Rutting Moon, Doctors without Boundaries, Nights Under Vesuvius, and The Bavarian Bride and the Indian Brave. But lately Aida has succumbed to remorse and self-loathing. Determined to become a serious writer, she returns to her native Door County and begins writing about “people who fall victim to their endocrine system.” The working title of her new book is Notes on Love from a Quiet Anarchist. Like many writers, Aida is beset by distractions, including her on-again, off-again boyfriend, Rune, who can hardly stop preaching about environmental issues long enough to make love.
Aida is also surrounded – indeed overwhelmed – by such freakish characters as Buddy Pfenniger, a real-estate developer who becomes entangled in a scheme to build a Native American casino in Juddville; his California wife, Tamara, who demands that any development in Juddville include an elegant pet spa; and Rogan, who would prefer to build a fear-based theme park in Egg Harbor. Dwayne Pinkel is a Green Bay politician who once proposed a bill allowing the blind to hunt in Wisconsin without a license. The weirdest character of all is Donald F. Schindlbeck, who is also known as George De France, the Lost Dolphin, and Mr. Tuba. Because he claims descent from both an Indian chief and a king of France, he is an important figure in the casino scheme, but he dies prematurely when his obese mother accidentally sits on him.
Out the Door! is slow in places, particularly when Rune gets on his soapbox. In other places, the book is laugh-aloud funny. In one memorable episode, Rogan convinces a reluctant Tamara that it would be ecstasy to make love naked in a blinding thunderstorm. They retire to a secluded park near Cottage Row, and things are heating up nicely when a tree is struck by lightning and falls across the road, blocking their exit from the park. Tamara screams when she discovers that her designer clothes have been swept away by the storm. But not to worry: the boy scouts who have been enjoying the performance immediately go into rescue mode and summon the Gibraltar Fire and Rescue service. (Rumor has it that such episodes once occurred frequently, not in Fish Creek but on an inviting Lake Michigan beach.)
Out the Door! is not a book for everyone. People who are offended by vulgar language and/or explicit sexual scenes will not enjoy this book. Anyone who expects a loving depiction of the beautiful Door Peninsula will be disappointed: Buddy is the only character who actually likes Door County; and ironically, his work in real estate has done serious damage to the properties he develops. In fact, none of the characters are really likeable – and in a satire, they needn’t be – but a reader who wants to “identify” with the central character will be left cold. Nevertheless, some readers may find themselves growing fond of Buddy, partly because of his naïve love for Door County, partly because he remains reasonably calm during a series of disasters and strange encounters, and partly because he feels kindly toward Tamara even after he catches her committing adultery in the connubial bed.
In spite of its limitations, Out the Door! makes for enjoyable reading, but the character of Aida is disappointing. At first she appears to be the leading character and possibly the heroine who can solve mysteries, but after making an impressive entrance in the opening chapter, she quickly gets lost in the plots and counterplots surrounding the planned casino – plots so complicated that at one point the FBI appears to be investigating itself. When Aida is not trying to cope with Rune, she spends much of her time fretting about the probable failure of Notes on Love from a Quiet Anarchist. If she were given more to do, she could be a satisfying character in a trilogy or a longer series.
A final thought: any writer would do well to reveal her personality in her work itself, not in such devices as a bizarre piece of cover art, a peculiar page design, and a puzzling dedication “To Smee.”
Out the Door! by M.L. Collins / 328 pages / Eckhartz Press, 2017
Out the Door! is a finalist for the Chicago Writers Association’s 2017 Book of the Year award in the Indie category.