Down and Out in New York City

I read Paul Auster, The New York Trilogy, in one day last December mostly out of anticipation for rereading at some point. Get the structure down, figure out where he is going, and then reread to figure out what he is actually trying to do. For a ‘complex’ book the prose is spare and direct and wonderful to read. Part of this goes to White Noise – the tendency of all plots to move deathward – but it all reminded me of Amazons by ‘Cleo Birdwell,’ although these books have nothing in common.

I have no way of reading Amazons as anything but an out-of-print curiosity, an artifact and key to figuring out my favourite author. But, if I had been 26 years old in 1980 reading Amazons in drugstore-format, a pocket-sized paperback I would be reading a different book altogether – a book closer to what ‘Cleo Birdwell’ was actually trying to write perhaps. Amazons-as-curio makes Amazons a suddenly serious and mysterious piece of literature – ‘I Am A Jumper’ notwithstanding – on the level of Paul Auster, or at least the level of Paul Auster’s reputation. And the long walks through New York City in City of Glass made me think of Cleo Birdwell pushing Shaver through New York City in a wheelchair and carrying a hollow cane filled with scotch.

My copies of Amazons and Libra are in imposing first-edition hardcover but these are the only two DeLillo novels that I have seen also published as pocket books. Libra reduced to the thrill of an airport bookstore.

But the real connection is apparently with Cosmopolis, not Amazons: the dedication, “To Paul Auster.” But Cosmopolis is another labyrinth. I thought I understood Cosmopolis – a trip across New York City by car with diversions -until I watched Game 6, starring Michael Keaton and Robert Downey Jr. DeLillo wrote the script in 1991 but the movie came out in 2006, 15 years later, and the script as filmed is full of Cosmopolis, ‘pissing under the Manhattan bridge’ and ‘Benno Levin.’ But it gets weirder because apparently David Cronenberg has completed his own screenplay for Cosmopolis and if he casts Michael Keaton as Eric Packer it will all kinda fit together. When I read Cosmopolis in September 2006 I had never even heard of Paul Auster but I had read No Logo which I took as a clear antecedent.

Cosmopolis is on deck in a great big pile of books for me to read before the end of April and Game 6 is still for rent at Applause Video down the street. The 1991 script, set in 1986 and released in 2006, is preoccupied with the curse of the Boston Red Sox but in 2004 they won the World Series.

Paul Simon, “Paranoia Blues” from 1972

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1 Comment

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One response to “Down and Out in New York City

  1. reneethewriter

    Writer friends keep sayin’ to me: Read Paul Auster. I resist, or reZist, as my father would have said. Not sure why I procrastinate reading certain authors. Still haven’t cracked open a DeLillo (one fine day). I like reading about reading these current “literary greats” (?) though, so thanks. A lovely blog post.

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