Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Brooklyn Follies

Paul Auster
Henry Holt & Company
ISBN-13: 978*0-8656-7714-8
ISBN-10: 0-8050-7714-6

Paul Auster is an author that I have just discovered, despite the fourteen novels that he has already published. I have a couple of his others on hold at the library, so you'r likely to hear more about him here. Actually I my go on an Auster binge as I have with other writers and make you thoroughly sick of hearing about him.

The Brooklyn Follies takes place in the months leading up to the 9/11 attacks in 2001 and ends on the morning of 9/11 just before those events take place. There are a number of threads to the story, mostly having to do with the family o the narrator, Nathan Glass. Some of those threads are never tied up in the end, much to my, and Anton Checkov's dissatisfaction. What about the Hotel Existence? Why'd he even bring it up? The found the perfect place to open this magical realist hotel, and then dropped the idea without another thought. The religious zealot husband of Nathan's niece, when she leaves him, quietly files for divorce. Zip, gone. What good is he to the story? The forgery scam involving a supposed manuscript of The Scarlet Letter causes Nathan's friend, the rare book and manuscript dealer and ex convict, to die of a hear attack. Good, Nathan's nephew will inherit the bookstore, which should be worth enough money to enable him to buy the hotel which he is no longer interested in, even though he married the daughter of it's owner.

Not that I'm complaining. Auster writes marvelous prose and his characters are wonderfully sympathetic. All the twists and turns of plot are just thought experiments which Auster tires of after a while and goes off on another tangent, just as interesting. And perhaps that's the point of the book. Nathan busys himself writing what he calls "The Book Of Human Folly" which remains an unfinished manuscript throughout the novel. Projects and ideas fail or are dropped or succeed or not. People drift in and out, just as in real life, and, even though Nathan may or may not know what happened to them, he doesn't tell us.

What about 9/11 you ask? Nathan, fresh out of the emergency room, after suffering from an inflamed esophagus he thought was a massive heart attack, is planning to open a business selling "biography insurance" to people who would otherwise have no way of being remembered beyond their children or perhaps grandchildren. He is admiring the beautiful morning and mentions, as the omniscient narrator, that this is the morning of and just an hour or so before Brooklyn was rained down upon by the ashes of thousands of incinerated innocents. Then the book ends, boom.


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