Auster: The Brooklyn Follies (2005)

The cover of Paul Auster‘s “The Brooklyn Follies” has a photo of Brooklyn street corner, where every person is looking to the side, nobody facing the photographer/reader or even each other. There is one exception, the central figure, who looks like he could be the central character of the novel itself too. He is looking down into a plastic bag, surveying its content.

On one hand this scene depicts quite well what’s happening in the book, despite that the people on the cover do not directly correspond to the people between the covers. But for the most part it seems that they pass each other without really caring or even noting. The book is a rollercoaster ride, where so many things are happening to so may people, that you may get dizzy. On the other hand if you think that the main character is looking for depths you would be mistaken. The shopping bag is more of a symbol that the author went to the writers’ supermarket and bought a lot of techniques, characters and trick and through them together in the attempt of trying to make a single book. While I enjoyed the ride, but won’t remember much o iit later as there is not much to remember beyond the events.

However that maybe the point of the book. On page 158 he writes, “Why do I linger over these trivial details? Because the truth of the story lies in the details, and I have no choice but to tell the story exactly as it happened.” It seems that Auster’s intention is to comply with post-modernist ideals and grab the surface of events before they disappear. Then on page 303 we found these lines,

“Most lives vanish. A person dies and little by little all traces of that life disappear… My idea was this: to form a company that would publish books about the forgotten ones, to rescue the stories and facts and documents before they disappeared—and shape them into a continuous narrative, the narrative of life.”

I love the idea and would love to be involved in such a process. (For example at the book club where we discussed the book we remembered and read the obituary of a former book club member, whose life covered a multitude of countries, languages and eras. The little I know about her makes me think that her life story would have been fascinating to read.) The problem is that Auster’s novel is not a real life story but a segment of his imagination. I haven’t read any of this other books, but I’ve been told this fast-paced novel full of comic elements is not his usual style. Maybe he should return to his more solemn prose.

P.s. A quick summary of the story: Nathan Glass, a life-insurance salesman, retires to Brooklyn after he divorced and got terminal cancer. There he encounters Tom Wood, his lost cousin, who works in a used books tore, owned by a(n ex-?)criminal who got out of prison for forgery. Nathan gets entangled with with characters of his neighborhood and his family members in other parts of the country, this his idea of dying peacefully gets dissolved in the lives of others. As a result he gets a new life through the lives of others and eventually of his own.

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