Psychosis & Obsession: On Forrest Roth’s ‘Gary Oldman Is a Building You Must Walk Through’

Melissa Grunow
Jul 31, 2019 · 4 min read

An anonymous narrator hinges all his hope for future happiness on a script for a commercial that will feature actor Gary Oldman.


Forrest Roth
Novel | 164 pages | 6” x 9” | Reviewed: Paperback
978–0–9962276–6–7 | First Edition | $16.95
What Books Press | Los Angeles | BUY HERE


In Gary Oldman Is a Building You Must Walk Through, the hapless unnamed narrator hinges all his hope for future happiness on an awaited phone call. Unemployed and desolate, the anonymous writer believes he’s being hired to write a script for a television commercial that will feature actor Gary Oldman.

In anticipation of this life-changing gig, he ruminates on Oldman’s acting career so far, immersing himself in the obsession in his mind so deeply that he practically rewrites such films as Sid and Nancy to include himself, alongside his social-worker girlfriend’s unnamed famous sister. The narrator desperately attempts to draw parallels between his mundane life and the exciting action of Sid and Nancy by imagining himself as Gary Oldman playing Sid Vicious, the famous sister — an actress — playing the role of Sid’s girlfriend, Nancy Spungen.

There is a chronic preoccupation of the Frank Gehry Museum’s plate-glass door: the door becomes a symbol for unattainable happiness as well as realistic demise, as it is the famous sister’s attempt to walk through the door that leads to her psychotic break and subsequent disappearance, causing a strain on the relationship between the narrator and his girlfriend.

“Since I am neither assertive nor particularly noble, I cannot walk through the door or consider walking through the door or even imagine what lies beyond the door when the gentle man and your famous sister stop talking, when the thin voices all cease. Since I am reasonable and self-reasoned, I know when to remove my hand from the door, when to leave the hallways, and when to walk out a building once I have no further reason to be there.”

While the narrator appears self-assured, the unpassable door is a chronic obstruction to success; Gary Oldman is visible through the door, but entirely unattainable. Anyone who attempts to walk through the door will face his or her demise.

The narrative is more of a prose poem than a plot-driven novel, as the language, the scenes, and the people, all become entangled in a churning labyrinth that circles back on itself, unable to make meaning of even the most simple concrete objects of everyday life — such as a cup of coffee — because nothing is real; it’s a stream-of-consciousness psychosis and obsession with celebratory success that is unattainable for the desperate writer.

“I saw a sign inside the shop advertising one of the favorite chain’s new blends carefully created in tandem with the rapidly changing weather patterns in A Celebration of the Passage of Time.

Since Time does whatever it wants to and most people never grow happy with it when it does, I couldn’t resist asking my favorite anecdotal barista from Louisiana, who resembles in a distant way Gary Oldman as Lee Harvey Oswald from Oliver Stone’s JFK, for a celebratory cuppa. Once, maybe just once, I could feel the famous assassin’s full joy of having Time with me, on my side.”

However, nothing is on the narrator’s side. Not time, not love, not hope, not even the forward trajectory of events. Every person is an actor, every act simply acting. The narrator and his girlfriend cannot move outside of the physical and psychological space that holds them.

A circular and satirical commentary on obsession with fame and stardom, Gary Oldman Is a Building You Must Walk Through echoes Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, in which the narrator and his girlfriend are modernized versions of Vladimir and Estragon, perpetually waiting for something — or someone — that will never arrive.

MELISSA GRUNOW is the author of Realizing River City (Tumbleweed Books, 2016) and I Don’t Belong Here (New Meridian Arts Press, 2018). Her work has appeared in Creative Nonfiction, River Teeth, The Nervous Breakdown, New Plains Review, Blue Lyra Review, and elsewhere. Find her at her website.

The Coil

Literature to change your lightbulb.

Melissa Grunow

Written by

Author of REALIZING RIVER CITY: A MEMOIR (2016) and I DON’T BELONG HERE: ESSAYS (2018), book reviewer, word nerd. www.melissagrunow.com #amwriting

The Coil

The Coil

Literature to change your lightbulb.

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