And then, most important of all: to remember who I am. To remember who I am supposed to be. I do not think this is a game. On the other hand, nothing is clear. For example: who are you? And if you think you know, why do you keep lying about it? I have no answer. All I can say is this: listen to me. My name is Paul Auster. That is not my real name.
I’ve finished reading The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster. Join me in a moment of silence that could only mean, “Hella yeah.” I am treating this as an accomplishment. I’ve read several Auster books before, and have an unhealthy fascination with his wives [not to mention a crush on his daughter] — but this is the first time I read what has to be his most celebrated work [which was originally three separate novels that have been released as a single volume for years now -- as Auster eventually intended it to be].
Although I know several people who will disown me if I dare say that Auster’s Trilogy is, well, “Okay,” I’m risking it: It was okay enough, I guess. First things first, though: It impressed me. The craft, especially. Just thinking about how Auster plotted it all, how he made the characters work. How he run us through the concepts and questions and not-quite-answers.
Whenever anyone asks me what I think of Paul Auster’s work I always say: He doesn’t touch my heart. Whatever fascination and admiration I have for him, is purely on a technical [craft] perspective. His works, for me, do not resonate. I am in awe of his genius, but regard it from a distance. I have always respected him. I’ve always been fascinated about how he thinks, how he lays it all out on paper. I’ve always wanted to crawl inside his head. But: He doesn’t touch my heart.
But I wanted to read The New York Trilogy, though I was never actually compelled to before. And so I struck a deal with Kerry to read Auster, after we read Siri Hustvedt’s What I Loved almost simultaneously. Not so much a readalong, or a joint discussion, but, well, more like a security blanket: Someone out there was trying to conquer Auster at the same time that I was. And I borrowed Kael’s copy, mostly because it was an edition prettier than mine. Hee. And then I buckled up.
[And, well, perhaps it is testament to my complicated relationship with Auster: The rest of this post shall take on an air of confuzzlement. Ye have been warned. I mean, I won't even be talking about the book per se. Mostly my confuzzlement in relation to reading the book. If you came here looking for enlightenment, or commiseration: Ye have been conned.]
First up was City of Glass, which I read warily. It would take a couple more pages for me to figure out why this was. “It was a wrong number that started it,” it began, and it was a wrong number that seemingly dictates the soon-to-shatter life of one Daniel Quinn, secret novelist. Mistaken for private detective Paul Auster, he embarks on a case that involves an unsettling father-and-son pair, a lot of questions about existence, being, self-ness, reality, delusions, and the grain of truth behind illusions. Yes.
And then came Ghosts, which I didn’t like much. Let me demonstrate. According to the jacket copy, Ghosts is: “Blue, a student of Brown, has been hired by White to spy on Black. From a window of a rented room on Orange Street, Blue stalks his subject, who is staring out of his window.” Yes. Okay, great. It was very nearly one solid block of narrative and and and colors. And more questions. And more concepts. And more existential detective-y meta-narratives that had me gasping into my drink [I read most of it while I was oh-so-disrespectfully attending a poetry reading.] Again, yes.
My favorite, though, is definitely The Locked Room. A man named Fanshawe has disappeared, leaving behind a wife, a son, and revolutionary genius writing that fits two suitcases “as heavy as a man” — Sophie, Fanshawe calls our narrator [who, it so happens, is the narrator of the previous two stories], a childhood friend of Fanshawe. And what follows is primarily a story of subversion: either of another’s identity or one’s own. As with the previous two novels, it gets rather grisly. Disturbing. Unsettling. Confuzzling.
I’ve taken note of Auster’s occasional earnestness before. That is, I find so very little, hm, giddiness [wrong word, I know] in his fiction, when I find so much in his interviews. Note that I have never read an Auster interview/essay/poetics shiznit that I didn’t like. The man loves writing, he breathes it. Talking about a turn of phrase, talking about the very act of being still with his notebook — Paul Auster likes his job. He’s so passionate about it — that is what touches my heart about Auster. And I found that in The Locked Room, not a direct translation of his non-fictional work, but a dimension of it. Oh, see how our narrator talks about a kiss:
Then, without warning, we both straightened up, turned towards each other, and began to kiss. After that, it is difficult for me to speak of what happened. Such things have little to do with words, so little, in fact, that it seems almost pointless to try to express them. If anything, I would say we were falling into each other, that we were falling so fast and so far that nothing could catch us. Again, I lapse into metaphor. But that is probably beside the point. For whether or not I can talk about it does not change the truth of what happened. The fact is, there never was such a kiss, and in all my life I doubt there can ever be such a kiss again.
Although many times I treated The New York Trilogy as a puzzle the reader is obligated to solve — what with recurring themes and characters and names and scenarios — I enjoyed it immensely, even if I was very much aware that a second and a third and a fourth reading was required for me to freely enjoy it. I want to be lost in it in the future, not so guarded. It will most probably confuse me still, parts of it may forever be not understood by li’l ol’ me. But I suppose that comes with Auster. And so, again: Yes.
To Kerry: I eagerly await your thoughts on this. Mostly to help me out with the confuzzlement. Everyone, you are very much welcome to enlighten me.