Sunday, August 5, 2012

The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster

In City of Glass author Daniel Quinn takes a phone call from Peter Stillman, who is looking for detective Paul Auster.  Stillman who has been subjected to a unique kind of child abuse in that his father--of the same name--wanting him to learn the language of God forbade him to learn how to speak.  Quinn assumes the role of Auster for want of anything better to do and follows Stillman's fresh out of prison father as he is sure his father has hostile intentions toward him. 

As Quinn plays the part of detective he slowly loses himself and his own ability to speak and communicate with people as he only writes in a notebook taking down notes of Stillman's father's wanderings.  Other roles of interest are meeting the real writer Paul Auster not the detective, and his son Daniel.  While there is a lot of think about Auster doesn't draw attention to his prose, but does make you wonder if what you're thinking about has any strong tangible connection to the story being told such as Auster's essay on Don Quixuote's alias.  It is similar to Quinn's use of a nom de plum and he pretends to be Auster and the character in his detective novels  and discourse on the tower of babel.  It's beautifully written (perhaps too well so, Peter Stillman's actually 'speech' was a bit tedious to get through, maybe more realistic that I really wanted to read if you follow) but the summation didn't feel like it hit as hard as it should have. 

Both Stillman's and Quinn eventually loses touch with reality; the latter possibly by way of taking on the roles of too many people and losing himself which seems to be all that is left to him after the loss of his wife and son.

The second book, Ghosts is more of a narrative essay on reading and writing; indirectly it speaks to the creative process and how it is approached from artist to consumer.  Keeping the 'detective' theme in mind the story, thin as it is, deals with two men, detectives of a sort watching each other endlessly neither knowing why or making anything that they could call discernible progress, yet unwilling to relent in their job.  They shadow each other making useless reports until the seeming futility of what they do leads them to out themselves to each other.  I felt in Ghost that the narrative obscured what would have otherwise been very powerful points Auster was trying to make.  I also encountered the power of a name in this story.  The two primaries are called Blue and Black: those are their names.  They both, may or may not work for a Mr White.  It's hard to get attached to characters named Black, White, and Blue and they came across as very impersonal despite the author fleshing them out.

The final book, The Locked Room deals with all the same themes but the story is so much stronger than the preceding two that all things written resonate a bit stronger than the City of Glass or Ghost.  A man, Fanshawe, leaves his wife Sophie, and child one day and is never heard from again.  His childhood friend is contacted by Sophie and asked to be the executor of his literary estate.  We see the narrator step into Fanshawe's life: preparing his work, contacting agents, marrying his wife and we see him loss the person he used to be.  While the story was most gripping in The Locked Room it was also perhaps the most unbelievable of the three.  The detective aspect here is in learning about Fanshawe and the reasons why he could walk away from his life.  For a fictional character Auster almost makes you think Fanshawe is a real writer so detailed are the exploits of his life and the narrator's study of his letters.  In general, Auster seems to be a minimal effort maximum yield type of writer.

Observation, isolation, and identity are themes in all three of stories quasi- detective stories.  It's all meta fiction-ish without being obnoxious.  The shared links of identity, doubt and uncertainty are strongly unifying and the reoccurring characters, or perhaps trying to identify them through out the three books, were a great surprise.  All stories and main characters also have a highly destructive element to them; as if we are waiting for them to intentionally mess things up somehow.  I didn't know what to expect going into this but I came away with a new author that is certainly now on my 'list.'  

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