January 2006

Auster’s life-affirming odyssey

By Paul Auster
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Meet Nathan Glass. He is eager to tell you all about himself. But to hear Nathan tell it, he is at least at the outset of this superbly comic novel a cynical 59-year-old man who has returned to Brooklyn for only one reason: he is quietly waiting to drop dead. As if Nathan's outlook isn't morbid enough, he seems eager to whip his poor rotten soul like some medieval penitent as he blames himself for nearly everything that has gone wrong in his disintegrating life: an acrimonious divorce, a battle against cancer and an estrangement from his daughter. Then, while he wanders alone through the dark hollows of his existence in Brooklyn somewhat like a displaced Candide something remarkable begins to happen. First, he encounters a long-lost nephew, Tom Wood, whose life seems nearly as damaged as Nathan's. Then Nathan meets Tom's enigmatic boss, the flamboyant bookstore owner Harry Brightman. With Tom and Harry as his unlikely companions, Nathan quickly finds himself swept away on a life-affirming odyssey filled with bizarre adventures and glorious revelations. Through Nathan's ironic involvement, all sorts of people discover renewed capacities for love, happiness, redemption and a profound sense of community. And even as things are falling terrifyingly apart, everything somehow turns out for the best in Brooklyn.

The Brooklyn Follies is another Paul Auster masterpiece. Ever since The New York Trilogy nearly 20 years ago, Auster through dozens of books has produced increasingly dazzling, provocative writing. He may remind readers of Franz Kafka, Nathaniel West or Philip Roth, but Auster as brilliant postmodern parodist and satirist is a unique talent. He may, in fact, be America's best writer. The Brooklyn Follies is quite simply a wonderful, lyrical novel, a joyful celebration of life's pleasures and ironies even in the face of terror and death. Read it for the laughter and wisdom it will bring you. You will not be disappointed.

Tim Davis teaches English at the University of West Florida.

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