Ten years after his wife’s death, an elderly man reflects on his mortality, the life he has lived and his designs for the future in this inspiring and sensitive portrayal of the complexities of getting older.
Philosophy professor Seymour (Sy) Baumgartner has much to ponder at 71. Each accident or encounter in his life sparks not only the remembrance of things and people past, but sometimes new visions and goals, such as moving forward in love, possibly with his UPS delivery person and secret crush, Molly, or finally publishing his late wife Anna’s collection of writing.
Author Paul Auster quickly establishes themes of aging, isolation, connection and the power of memories. As Baumgartner opens, Sy is on his way downstairs to find a book when he remembers that he promised to call his sister, but both tasks are diverted by a forgotten pot of water on the stove. Hurriedly removing it, Sy burns his hand, and he’s barely taken care of the burn when a man from the electric company calls to say that he will be late for an appointment Sy doesn’t even recall making.
Between Sy’s surprise at kindness from a stranger, his sense of detachment from his body, his imaginary conversations with his beloved Anna, and his recollections of his parents’ lives and their own senses of inefficacy, Auster creates a bittersweet emotional landscape combining sadness and insecurity with joy and inspiration. Auster’s narrative and observations are lucid, pithy and moving, and even some of his clichés ring true: “To live is to feel pain,” Sy declares, “and to live in fear of pain is to refuse to live.”
Nuanced, compassionate and simply eloquent, Baumgartner is a stirring portrait of a man trying to adapt to his aging body and mind.