Tag Archives: Paul Auster

“Our mutual friend, Paul Auster”

I read Siri Hustvedt, What I Loved, in just a few days last month. I brought it with me on a weekend trip to Seattle and back, a trip on which I didn’t read a thing but bought a pile of new books, and went right through it when I got back. I want to note that I read it within a week of buying it at PulpFiction – my habit is to buy novels and read them six months later. But I had a sense that if I did not read this right away, I might never get around to it.

And I don’t know what it was about or I can’t phrase it all into an aphorism, at least. One take suggested that it is two novels, uneasily grafted into one. From the back cover: “A wrenching portrait of parental grief, then a psychological thriller, and finally a meditation on the perspective of memory itself.” But to write something long – in both page length and scale of time – and to never end up glib or cheap. It was sudden to see a character die but that’s how it goes: people die, it’s sudden, you handle these things as you do. The course of change and the things that stay the same.

The comparison I made when I started was with Paul Auster, The Book Of Illusions – similar size and weight, same publisher, same year, similar interest in fictional art objects and great investment in art objects (paintings/films) as agents of character development, a focus on grief. Also, they are married. Siri Hustvedt is also the author of two previous novels… She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, Paul Auster.

But the next comparison I made was with Michael Redhill, Martin Sloane, which I read over two days in August 2008 and haven’t really thought about since. But hey, it was shortlisted for the Giller prize! And I have to admit to taking What I Loved more seriously because it doesn’t have a great big “Giller Prize finalist!” sticker on the front. I enjoyed reading it but what was there at the end, why did I read this book? All I remember now are the detailed descriptions of the little ‘boxes’ that Martin Sloane, the artist, made. And when Bill Wechsler, the artist, in What I Loved starts to make his own boxes all I could picture were these incongruous passages from Martin Sloane – art objects that are delicately imagined and wonderful to read over but in both cases a real stretch to place into the narrative. Maybe, two years from now, all I will have left from What I Loved will be the boxes. Imaginary pieces of art. And I have had to check myself – did I see the boxes? In a gallery, somewhere. No, wait, that was just that Michael Redhill book I read last year. And, again, from the back cover: “Martin Sloane evokes the mysteries of love and art, the weight of history, and what it means to bear memory for the missing and the dead.”

Here is a cartoon about Paul Auster and Siri Hustvedt. Are they rich? Literary, sure, but rich – I’m sure they’re doing fine but I don’t know about ‘rich.’ I read an interview from The Guardian with Don DeLillo that ends with the reporter and Don DeLillo meeting Paul Auster for lunch, because that’s just what human beings do. Sometimes after work, we get together to eat at local restaurants with “our mutual friend, Paul Auster.”

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“A gleaming storytelling machine”

I sympathise with the second paragraph here on 52 books. I am moving and changing other things too but mostly moving, all but three of my books are in boxes or bags and I have forgotten how to read. Or I am learning new methods and strategies but I feel as though while there was a time where I could read that time has passed. I tried reading from an arbitrary list and it almost worked, I almost made it through, but three months and two weeks in I had to stop and I haven’t been able to start again.

I wrote when I bought Paul Auster, The Book Of Illusions, that I didn’t like Paul Auster enough to buy another book of his, which was true. But I left it out on my desk and kept looking at it and decided not to wait for the summer after all. I read John le Carre, Single and Single (which was hardly there at all; ultimately a very small story), and decided to follow up with more narrative; to quote the inside cover, “The novel is a gleaming storytelling machine.”

And then, I was in Mount Pleasant for the day and ended up at the bookstore and I bought Paul Auster, Oracle Night. One friend said that she had been just about to buy the very same copy the week before. “I remember hearing about Paul Auster. Maybe from you?” Yeah, probably. And I don’t even know if I like Paul Auster; I don’t even know what he’s doing. But another friend, that night, looked at Oracle Night and was angry! And then I was defending Paul Auster: I may not know what he’s doing but I love it, I really do and I love how it made me feel for the strange week I dragged this book out for. She’d just read Paul Auster, The Brooklyn Follies and hated it or maybe just didn’t understand it but wasn’t compelled enough to figure it out. I didn’t understand The Book Of Illusions but I loved it.

The original receipt is still in my copy of The Book Of Illusions: $17.12 at Book Warehouse (at 632 W. Broadway) in November 2003. I used it to mark of a passage on pg 227 that I especially liked: “I liked being here, and I liked sitting down at the long wooden table next to Alma and feeling her touch my arm in the same spot where Hector had touched me only a moment before. Two different gestures, two different memories – one on top of the other. My skin had become a palimpsest of fleeting sensations, and each layer bore the imprint of who I was.”

I read in four-month periods, and this last period is marked off on each end, respectively, by The Book Of Illusions and Martin Amis, The Information.

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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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