Sunday, September 14, 2008

Man In The Dark

Paul Auster
Henry Holt and Company
ISBN-13: 978-0-8050-8839-7
ISBN-10: 0-8050-8839-3

I detect a pattern in Paul Auster's novels, and that's bad, and after reading only two of his books! There is an older man who is writing something, but what he is writing of of no particular significance, even to himself. The women in his life are going through tough times, as is he. People have died, left them, cheated. The old guy most likely cheated on his either dead of ex wife or else he behaved like a schmuck in some other way. There is some kind of fantasy thread that runs through the old guy's head, or more than one, but they don't go anywhere. Everyone decides to just keep soldiering on because it isn't unbearable. Then the book ends.

I had heard an interview on the radio with Auster about this, his newest book, which is what got me interested in reading him. In the interview Diane Rhem made much of the alternate universe in which there was a civil war in the U.S. which started after, and because of, the way that George W. became President in 2000. That alternate universe is a story the the old guy in Man In The Dark is telling himself, it's not the thing that he's writing. About halfway through the book Auster gets tired of it and has the old guy kill off the character in his little story, who had crossed (back) between universes with orders to kill the old guy. Then the little story of the little civil war is just dropped.

Alternate history is a respectable sub genre of science fiction. Auster did not do justice to that sub genre. In fact it was a waste of time reading it. Repetitive, self referential writing about a fictional author who writes about himself is what turned John Barth from a brilliant novelist into a crashing bore. Auster is well on his way to joining Barth in that category.


  1. I couldn't agree more. I read the book for the same reason you did. Auster created an interesting alternative universe, just dropped it and went on with relative inanity about the insomniac.

    I guess when you're a literary "name" pulling stunts like that is "art."

  2. Unfortunately I was assuming that is going to be like this. Auster's last 4-5 novels are BS. But he has written also 5 or 6 masterpieces like - Moon Palace, New York Trilogy, Leviathan, Music of Chance. There are not many authors with 5 or 6 masterpieces behind, like him. His downfall started with too much experimenting with ultra-postmodernist crap, which is a deep crap.

  3. I'd like to know what qualifies as a "masterpiece." Not so long ago I stumbled upon a book called "A Reader's Manifesto" that took five authors who are publically praised and who have won awards, such as Don Delillo, Anne Prolux, Auster, and Cormac McCarthy and did a scathing analysis of how the public perceives them and considers them "literary geniuses" versus how (according to this guy) are complete crap. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, including the New York Times, which he attacks repeatedly, and every author is entitled to a couple bad books. But I think the gist of the matter is this. There are so few excellent contemporary authors. What we deem as good sometimes betrays our own shortsightedness as readers. We like to praise authors just because they attempt "big books", but that doesn't make them great. Anyways I could go on forever but it's nice to see an enlightened critique of Auster's very mediocre writing.


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