Monday, October 16, 2006

Brooklyn Follies. Paul Auster. 2006

Remember the story from Paul Auster's film "Smoke" told by Harvey Caitel's character towards the end of the film? It was a Christmas story about a man visiting a blind woman in the "Projects" and pretending to be her nephew...The new novel of Auster feels like it is being told by the same character -- there is similarity in the narrative's pace and style. The language is the everyday life conversational language of Brooklynites but Auster endows it with depth and beauty, which transcends the pettiness of the mundane. The narrator, Nathan Glass, is an insurance agent who goes back to his birthplace - Brooklyn, to spend the final stage of his life after cancer treatment. But the book is not dark -- Nathan's stories sound optimistic - sad but glorifying the beauty of life despite its tribulations.

The novel ends on a nostalgic note - a longing for a pre 9/11 innocence.

The plot is a "snowball" plot, which gradually involves more and more characters whose lives become entangled with Nathan's. In addition to dramatically exploited relationships of lovers, spouses and parents-children, Auster pursues some unusually prosaic blood relations -- uncle-nephew and uncle-niece. (I can't recall of another recent novel that explores such relationships unless I go back to Dickens). In general, the narrative style itself reminds of nineteenth century techniques - for example, the device where the narrator injects suspense in the story with sentences like : "Had I known what would happen after that, I wouldn't...." or "what happened next was very unusual and etc." or "if I hadn't made the decision to ..., most of the events of this novel would have never taken place..." I am glad Auster returns to classic narrative techniques even though he has not entirely abandoned "post-modern" devices like self-references and hidden-quotations. And if the Kafka story worked beautifully, the "Book of follies" penned by Nathan seems unnecessary and does not contribute in a meaningfully way to the book. The mini-plots utilized by Auster involve scams -- one that reminds of "Ripley Underground" (Patricia Highsmith), another (Hawthorne-related) - told with great enthusiasm for the Rascal and his/her life-loving energy. The book is definitely addressing a "reading" reader, who would probably derive the most of it, but its beauty lies beyond the literary references - it is in the intertwining small bitter-sweet events of life, the yarn of living and storytelling delivered with seriousness and an almost revelatory tone, which seemingly does not correspond to the pettiness of the subject matter - a waitress with a jealous husband, a perfect mother sending her kids on the school bus, a guy mowing his lawn...

All these miniatures perfectly tie together with Nathan's idea at the end of the novel to start a publishing enterprise dedicated to recording the biographies of the forgettable -- the ordinary people.


"I want to talk about happiness and well-being, about those rare, unexpected moments when the voice in your head goes silent and you feel one with the world. I want to talk about the early June weather, about harmony and repose, about robins and yellow finches and blue-birds darting past the green leaves of trees. I want to talk about the benefits of sleep, about the pleasures of food and alcohol, about what happens to your mind when you step into the light of the two o'clock sun and feel the warm embrace of air around your body."


Blogger Vera Helena said...

I´m reading Ripley Underground. The history of the painter is the same in both books. PS: sorry my (poor) English!

4:26 PM  

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