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Here it is, my first novel of the year. Or, rather, sequence of novellas: The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster. 

 

When I first started reading this book, I wasn’t sure that I would like it. The first volume in the trilogy, City of Glass, I found to be almost too accessible — that is, it does all the standard postmodern things where the narrator meets the author, others doubling, there is an obsessive focus on details like red notebooks etc. etc. etc. And that’s all fine. But my issue with it was that it seemed to not resolve — that it seemed to go through all the tricks without actually delivering on anything impactful. I was left wondering if there was anything worth going on about.

 

The second volume in the trilogy, Ghosts, I found somewhat more satisfying, though again I wondered whether or not I was going to wind up liking this book. Basically, Ghosts repeats the plotline of the first novella: an investigator (named Blue here) follows a possibly-unsuspecting person (Black) around New York City. There's lots of metafictional stuff, references to Thoreau and Whitman and Hawthorne, etc etc etc.

 

And then we get to the third book, The Locked Room. And all of the obsessive themes of the first two volumes are crystallized around a story that is in fact fairly emotionally resonant— it goes for a much more humane sort of story, one that’s less focused on simply being full of clever tricks and more focused on explaining how those clever tricks work from a psychological perspective. The Locked Room folds the previous two novellas into itself and invests them, retrospectively, with much more heft than they have on first reading.

 

And what that means is I love this book. All the bits snap into place and the work becomes truly meaningful, truly interesting, and truly gripping.

 

For what it’s worth I read this book over the course of a week — not because I found it uninteresting. I read the first volume on a Sunday. After that things happened and I was a little bit less inclined to read so I read the second volume — which is substantially shorter — over the course of two days. And then today I went to a house that I’m housesitting and I read the entirety of the final volume. It's that easy to read, and that gripping.

 

So--supposing I'm thinking of reading some more Auster in the summer--where should I go from here? I'm drawn to Timbuktu for reasons that are wholly unliterary: the book gets a shout-out in a song:

 

 

--but I'm open to other suggestions.

 

Meantime, here's one of many Auster interviews on YouTube:

 

 

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I considered myself a Paul Auster fan but, upon further review, have read quite a smaller percentage of his books than I realized.

 

In addition to the New York Trilogy, I can highly recommend Moon Palace, though it has been many years since I've read it.  (I also tracked down a copy of Squeeze Play, his first published book under the name Paul Benjamim, which is an extremely straight-forward 1980s detective novel about blackmail of a start baseball player). I also enjoyed reading his early memoir The Invention of Solitude.

 

What I recommend much more strongly are Auster's own narration of his audiobooks.  After checking out and not reading Man In The Dark a couple times, I took the audiobook on long drive for a wedding, finishing the book over the course of the weekend, and found the experience thrilling. I can still remember certain passages and the scenery around me.  Sunset Park is not as strong a book, but I loved Auster's narration of it too.  Similarly, his recent memoirs, Winter Journal and Report from the Interior are odd and meander all over the place (on multiple occassions he recounts the entire plot of films he watched), but Auster's reading made worthwhile for me.

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Oh, nice. Adding Moon Palace to my list. And I'll definitely be tracking down his narration at some point. Thanks!

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