Did You Get That Thing I Sent You?

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Paul Auster

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Paul Auster is the Brooklyn-based author (a blog theme or mere coincidence?) of a great many things, notable among which are The New York Trilogy, The Brooklyn Follies, and the screenplay for just kinda “eh” 1995 film, Blue in the Face.

While Auster has been just showered with illustrious praise and recognition, it kinda boggles my mind that he isn’t more popular among academics specifically and the book readers widely, in the United States. In pitch form he appears the perfect candidate for American Lit superstardom: A postmodern noir crime novelist. Yet his rightful position among the (oft-listed on this blog) literary elite seems to have eluded him for whatever reason. My gut points to the absence of a “massive text” in Auster’s career, some massive and prohibative tome for people to stare at in awe (Auster’s most celebrated work, The New York Trilogy, at 308 pages, is actually three 100ish page novels shoved together).

The thing is, plenty of people read Auster. It’s a shame more don’t. I’m going to now disclose that The New York Trilogy is no-joke-bar-none-sorry-Ulysses-sorry-Sun Also Rises best book I have ever read. So obviously there is an agenda driving my argument he should be celebrated more (I once told a professor about my favorite book, and he had never heard of Auster- amazing). I could, and hopefully someday will, write an entire essay on why Auster is among the most effective writers alive, thanks to his particular practice of boiling issues of identity confusion and everyday disorientation over a rather strictly formalist paragraph structure. What I mean by this is that Auster drops some heavy concepts in a very matter-of-fact manner, but you never stop to reread or wonder what’s going on (though at the end of his stories its hard to say what has really happened). His style is extremely fluid, and possesses that page turner quality typical of airplane reads. And maybe this is the reason he hasn’t achieved the attention he deserves. Maybe the man is too difficult for your average Dan Browner but too straight forward for the Proust set.

Some examples:

A pretty good op-ed by the man in the NYT from April, back when everyone was talking about how it’s been 40 years since April, 1968. Nothing very noir about it but you get the sense of fluidity I alluded to in the above letters.

Writing New York,” from some collection where apparently a different author wrote in argument for each state. Make sure to use the “zoom in” function.

The first few dozen pages of City of Glass, the first and most famous novel in The New York Trilogy. It’s just a sample, which I know is infuriating, but I defy you to read this and then go about your day without it haunting your thoughts.


Written by Peter Kelly

October 29, 2008 at 12:28 am

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