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Debra Hamel is the mother of two preternaturally attractive girls and the author of a number of books about ancient Greece. She writes and blogs from her subterranean lair in North Haven, CT. Read more.


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Auster, Paul: Man in the Dark

  Amazon  

4 stars

Fans of Paul Auster will find much that's familiar in his latest novel, Man in the Dark. The specific man alluded to by the book's title--though surely Auster means to suggest something about the state of mankind in general--is 72-year-old August Brill, who's living with his daughter Miriam while recovering after a car accident. There are three generations in mourning in the house: August, still distraught after the death of his wife; Miriam still suffering the after-effects of divorce, five years on; and Miriam's daughter Katya, who is biding time while she blames herself for her boyfriend's death. By day August and Katya watch movies, four or five or six of them in a row while they allow time to wash over them. By night August lies awake in the dark, unable to sleep, willing himself not to remember the myriad bad things of life--his own particular grievances and the misery of human existence as a whole. By way of distraction he thinks up stories, one in particular about an alternate universe in which the characters are aware that they are characters in the head of a certain 72-year-old August Brill. Since they are unhappy with the narrative he's creating for them, they are in a mutinous mood.

This is Auster's signature: stories within stories, the author playing with the boundary between reality and fiction, his characters sometimes crossing over from one realm to the other. In addition to the principal story in August's head there is also his recapitulation of his granddaughter's critical assessments of the movies, with their various plots summarized as well. And there are stories told by characters within stories. Also familiar here is Auster's prose, which as usual goes down easy: his writing style is admirably simple yet never boring. The book, depressing in outlook for the most part, is ultimately hopeful.

If this were my first encounter with Auster, I might have been wowed by this novel. But we've seen this sort of thing before, most recently in Auster's Travels in the Scriptorium, which was published just a year ago. The two books are very similar, but I'd recommend Man in the Dark over Travels. It offer a meatier story, with more interesting, better developed characters, and a more satisfying conclusion.

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