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The Big Door Prize

by M.O. Walsh

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913274,595 (3.44)7
"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"--

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From the book jacket: 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. 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 destiny. With enough credibility to make the townspeople curious, the machine soon has the teachers, nurses, and shopkeepers of Deerfield abruptly changing course to pursue their new destinies – including Douglas Hubbard and his wife, Cherilyn, who both believed they were perfectly happy until they realized they could dream for more…

My reactions:
My F2F book club chose this book for discussion; I doubt I would have picked it up otherwise. I knew nothing going into it and expected a charming, quirky character-driven ensemble of small-town Southern America. I got some of that, certainly, but so much more.

There are some pretty heavy issues here, including unrealized dreams, peer pressure, drug abuse, grief, suicidal ideation, and domestic terrorism. The characters weren’t all fully realized, with some being little more than stereotypical sketches.

I came to really like some of these characters; Douglas, Cherilyn, Father Pete, and Principal Pat stand out. My heart broke for Trina and Jacob who cannot see a way to process their trauma and grief, and like too many teenagers, struggle alone.

There are scenes that are introspective and give the reader some insight into what these characters are thinking (whether or not they’ve used the DNAMIX machine to reveal their potential). Other scenes are light-hearted and break the tension. And there are very dramatic scenes that made me afraid to look, and more afraid to look away. There were enough plot points left hanging that several in my book club suspect a sequel in the works. ( )
  BookConcierge | Jun 20, 2022 |
As I read this, I could not help thinking about Dr. Seuss’s The Sneetches in which a machine is brought to town to change the lives of the inhabitants. There will be no Star-Bellied Sneetches, but there will be people in the small town of Deerfield, Louisiana who have their lives disrupted by the DYNAMIX machine. For $2.00 and a cheek swab, people learn their true life calling. So, when a stay-at-home wife of the high school teacher learns she was to be royalty, life at home changes. And as often happens, life turns to pain. A classmate tries to convince Jacob, a high school student, that they are to plot a revenge against the student who was with Jacob’s twin brother when he died in a drunk-driving accident. Best line in the book is when Jacob discovers “everyone on this planet is just one stranger’s decision away from eternity.” If you’re stuck at home because of COVID and you have YA students who can handle a more mature subject and language, this would be a great family read-aloud. Everyone needs more gratitude in their lives and this book makes the reader think about it. ( )
1 vote brangwinn | Sep 13, 2020 |
Deerfield, Louisiana is celebrating its 200th anniversary, and the bicentennial motto is “Welcome to Deerfield!! 200 Years of Peace and Quiet!!” The peace of Deerfield is shattered when a mysterious machine appears in Johnson’s supermarket. The “DNAMix” supposedly gives you a ticket revealing your true destiny in exchange for a couple of bucks and a swab of your saliva, and within weeks the DNAMix creates total chaos.

At times eerily prescient and at times completely ridiculous, the DNAMix causes Deerfield’s inhabitants to be transfixed by what might have been, and what still might happen, if they make huge changes in their lives. The costume shop is mobbed with locals chasing their new destinies.

Meanwhile, high school history teacher Douglas’s newfound dreams of becoming a musician are undone as the DNAMix tells him he’s already fulfilled his destiny. This throws Douglas into a funk. Douglas is a very good man who adores his lovely wife Cherilyn. The DNAMix told Cherilyn that she was meant to be royalty, with mostly bad results.

Meanwhile, in the novel’s dark story line, the local Catholic priest, Pete, is very worried about his troubled niece, Trina. Grieving her boyfriend, Toby, who died in an auto accident, Trina blames Toby’s friends for his death. Trina is bullying Toby’s twin brother Jacob into participating in some sort of revenge plot: something far more dangerous than the mostly harmless fantasies obsessing the rest of the population.

In a place where everyone knows everyone else’s business, it’s going to be the wildest small town bicentennial celebration ever.

I enjoyed reading “The Big Door Prize" and recommend it to fans of southern fiction. One of the plot lines was anti-climactic after I was expecting something big to happen, and I didn't enjoy the primary female characters nearly as much as the primary male characters. However, by the time all of the plot lines converged at festival time in Deerfield, I had laughed, cried, and gotten the chills, but the novel felt so real that it never felt manipulative or cheesy. So you think you know people? Maybe you don’t know them at all.

I received an advanced readers copy of this book from the publisher and Netgalley and was encouraged to submit an honest review. ( )
  jillrhudy | Aug 30, 2020 |
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"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"--

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