Summary and book reviews of The Big Door Prize by M.O. Walsh

The Big Door Prize

by M.O. Walsh

The Big Door Prize by M.O. Walsh X
The Big Door Prize by M.O. Walsh
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2020, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 2021, 384 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Kelly Hydrick
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About this Book

Book Summary

The New York Times bestselling author of My Sunshine Away returns with another instant Southern classic: a gripping and heartfelt novel about a mysterious machine that upends a small Louisiana town, asking us all to wonder if who we truly are is who we truly could be.

What would you do if you knew your life's potential? That's the question facing the residents of Deerfield, Louisiana, when the DNAMIX machine appears in their local grocery store. It's nothing to look at, really--it resembles a plain photo booth. But its promise is amazing: With just a quick swab of your cheek and two dollars, the device claims to use the science of DNA to tell you your life's potential. With enough credibility to make the townspeople curious, soon the former teachers, nurses, and shopkeepers of Deerfield are abruptly changing course to pursue their destinies as magicians, cowboys, and athletes--including the novel's main characters, Douglas Hubbard and his wife, Cherilyn, who both believed they were perfectly happy until they realized they could dream for more...

Written with linguistic grace and a sense of wonder, The Big Door Prize sparkles with keen observations about what it might mean to stay true to oneself while honoring the bonds of marriage, friendship, and community, and how the glimmer of possibility can pull these bonds apart, bring them back together, and make second chances possible, even under the strangest of circumstances.

1
The Hubbards

After thirty-nine years and eleven-plus months, Douglas Hubbard had finally had enough of being Douglas Hubbard. So, for his fortieth birthday, just last Friday, he bought himself a trombone. It was a thing he'd long wanted and, now that it was purchased, Douglas felt this object made him an entirely new man. He was so excited, in fact, he spent his entire weekend polishing the instrument until it nearly glowed, standing in front of the full-length mirror in his and his wife's bedroom, spinning aloud out magical phrases like Dizzy Douglas, Herbie Hubbard, and Thelonious Doug. He dreamt up enough jazzy nicknames in the first few days alone to sustain several impressive careers and yet had not even put lip to mouthpiece. Why bother? When a person finds as much joy as Douglas did in simply imagining themselves to be someone else, the actual work required to change, along with so many other things they hold dear, can be forgotten.

But tonight, after clumsily blaring his way ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Instead of examining the problems of determining a person's potential via DNA analysis, the novel focuses on the emotional fallout that occurs when we feel our potential doesn't align with reality, and skirts around the idea that sometimes it takes outside permission to admit this discrepancy and do something about it. The Big Door Prize is a modern fable that explores issues of choice, personal potential and the myriad ways people go about getting what they want...continued

Full Review Members Only (786 words).

(Reviewed by Kelly Hydrick).

Media Reviews

BookPage
The Big Door Prize calls attention to the ordinary, hard-won joys of real people. M. O. Walsh’s second novel is a feel-good read in a down-home setting, with serious undertones.

Shelf Awareness
[A] surprising and heartwarming contemporary drama about looking back and looking forward…readers of this singular, nuanced story will, quite possibly and without a machine as prompt, undertake their own personal reflection.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution
The ability to take what is primarily a funny, engaging, leisurely paced look at Small Town, USA, a la Fannie Flagg, and turn it into a breathless, high-stakes page-turner in the last 60 pages speaks to the mastery of Walsh's storytelling skills. But what makes The Big Door Prize most appealing is its deeply humane characters who are primarily sweet and kind-hearted, but who get drunk and fight and act a fool just enough to give them a bit of an edge. Weaving it all together is a gentle sense of humor conveyed through comic events and clever observations that make us laugh not so much at the characters but at the sight of ourselves within them.

Kirkus Reviews
An eccentric, well-written small-town novel jam-packed with appealing characters and their dreams.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Walsh skirts the edge of fantasy in this playful and touching tale set in small-town Deerfield, La...The novel transcends its quirky premise, offering many insights on the mysteries of the human heart.

Booklist (starred review)
It's hard to believe that Walsh wrote this moving novel long before the COVID-19 pandemic, for there is eerie prescience in its soulful message that gratitude and grace are not to be taken for granted and that life can be upended in an instant.

Author Blurb Daniel Wallace, author of Extraordinary Adventures and Big Fish
Think of The Big Door Prize as a beautiful box full of all the things that compose our lives: love, fate, chance, jealousy, sadness, jokes, desire, and music. M.O. Walsh gives us all this and more, page after page, until we feel as if we know a little bit more about everything there is worth knowing. One of the most big-hearted books you'll ever read, about so much, but, in the end, really about the secret of life: the specifics of caring.

Author Blurb Joshilyn Jackson, author of Never Have I Ever
The lives of a couple facing their mid-life crisis and a young man coming of age intersect in this humorous and hopeful novel. M.O. Walsh has never been afraid to go down into the darkest places of the human heart, but his truthfulness is balanced by a beautiful optimism, just as his sharp humor is leavened by his genuine affection for the layered, vital characters he creates. A wise, wry, twisty, and entertaining tale. I loved it.

Author Blurb Mary Miller, author of Biloxi and Always Happy Hour
The characters in The Big Door Prize are familiar yet curious—so much like my own neighbors that I began to weave myself into the story, considering other lives I might live if I were braver, pluckier. Walsh's novel is the ideal summer read, an immersive escape as well as a brilliant examination of free will vs. determinism.

Reader Reviews

Sandi W.

enjoyable...
Swab your cheek. Read your DNA. Change your life! What could be easier? That is the premise of the story. Small town Louisiana installs a photo booth type DNAMIX fortune teller in their local grocery store. For $2 change your life - get the ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Nature vs. Nurture

DNA structure The "nature vs. nurture" debate is what sparks the narrative tension in M.O. Walsh's novel The Big Door Prize. The character Cherilyn refers to the concept of nature vs. nurture when she explains how the unusual DNAMIX machine "tells you your potential, [...] what you could have been if everything would have worked out just right."

The premise of the novel's DNAMIX machine is that a person's potential in life is an innate quality that can be measured in their DNA. That is, it is nature that determines potential. Several characters in the novel are immediately suspicious of the machine and doubt whether it can actually do what it is supposed to. But what does current science say about nature and nurture? Is one or the other more ...

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