I’m being a little generous giving Sunset Park 7 out of 10. For a Paul Auster novel, it’s nothing special. The novel starts off strong, but about half way through it begins to peter out, mainly because he doesn’t focus on a single character’s story. Instead, every chapter is a character sketch of each person in the novel. Many of the chapters are vivid and compelling, but the parts are greater than the whole. It’s as if Auster began by telling the story of one central character, finished it and realized the story was only a hundred pages or so, then decided to reconstruct the story as a collection of character sketches so he could expand it into a novel-length story. That’s the impression I get.
The story is about four university type people, two men, two women, living in an abandoned house in New York City. The story takes place in 2008 during the first financial meltdown in the U.S. which some blame on the reckless military spending of George W. Bush’s government. Like he did with Man in the Dark, I think Auster is reflecting again on the tragic legacy of George W. Bush’s presidency. It’s not as direct this time around, but it’s not hard to spot when you think about it.
Sunset Park isn’t a bad novel. But overall it didn’t grab me like most of Auster’s have.
Paul Auster’s 2008 novel, Man in The Dark, imagines the United States falling into civil war after the election of George W. Bush. So the tragedies of Iraq, kidnappings and beheadings, the World Trade Center, Afghanistan — everything that happened or only got worse for the U.S. and the entire world under the dim-witted guidance of George W. Bush — none of it happens. That’s one hell of a vision. Auster makes it feel real by telling a story of how ordinary people are affected by some of those catastrophic events, which spurs the envisioning of the alternate reality for one of the characters.
Some critics have referred to Man in the Dark as Auster’s Slaughterhouse Five. Having finished the novel about 20 minutes ago, I agree. It’s laced with some black humour that had me laughing out loud more than once, though overall it’s a sad and tragic story about how the world really sucks thanks to people like George W. Bush — with just a dash of hope.
Like all of Auster’s novels (the 10 or so that I’ve read, anyway), Man in the Dark is a good read. For most of its 180 pages, it felt like a minor addition to his work that rambled off into nowhere land. But the last 5 pages puts it all into place, and that’s when I got it. And now I’m tempted to read it again.
I finished Paul Auster’s 2009 novel, Invisible, a few days ago and I’m not sure what to think of it (but I’ll give it a 7 out of 10). Again, it’s Paul Auster writing about a character that is himself thinly disguised — himself as a university student in the late ’60s making friends with people who turn out to be maybe not the greatest people on the planet. It’s another engaging existential journey, one that’s familiar to anyone who’s read Paul Auster, who I think could write a novel about someone hanging clothes out to dry and it would still suck you in. “Invisible” has that Paul Auster thing going on. So it’s a good read.
But that’s the most I can say about it because, for me, the book just ends without resolving any of the mysteries that are introduced in the first 300 pages of the novel. I had to take a 3-day break from the book before I could finish the last portion of it, so it’s possible I forgot some revealing detail during the break. But if anyone who has read the novel can tell me the truth behind the main event of the story, please leave a comment and let me know. Because I completely missed it — if it was revealed.
So except for not getting the ending, “Invisible” was a good read. I enjoyed it. I just didn’t get it.
I finished reading Mr Vertigo by Paul Auster today and it’s an excellent read. It’s about a guy who learns to levitate and earns a living in a travelling road show. The narrator’s language is free and loose and the most laugh-out-loud entertaining of anything I’ve read from Auster. And as is the case with all of Auster’s stories, nothing goes as planned and all kinds of tragic and crazy events unfold, building up to an ending that could be considered inspiring and poetic.
I’ll take a photo of the book right now:
Mr Vertigo is the 3rd and last novel in Collected Novels – Volume Two. The omnibus series of collected novels is printed and mostly sold in the UK, which is too bad, because it’s a quality bound and printed book and I would be glad to have every volume in the series even though I already own many of Auster’s novels individually. I appreciate good solid books.
Where The Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein (10/10) — A collection of illustrated poems for kids I discovered one night while looking for a bedtime book to read to my niece. (I ordered it for myself the next morning.) I laughed out loud to just about every poem in the book. A clever melding of parables and just silliness. (Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree is another kids book that should be on every adult’s bookshelf.)
The Little Prince (audio book) by Antoine Saint-Exupery (9/10) — A classic short novel for young adults and children, this dramatic reading is captivating and moving. It’s about a little boy (or prince) who befriends an airplane pilot who’s crashed in the desert and tells him the story of his lonely, absurd experiences with adults. It’s magical and sad and just as good as the original illustrated book. (Note to Podcast People: I listened to it on my MP3 player while walking to and from work for a week. Not a bad substitute for regular podcast listening.)
Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut (8/10) — A funny, profound, disturbing and sympathetic story about an American writer who becomes a secret agent during WWII by posing as a Nazi propagandist. Is he one of the good guys or is he just as happy working for the Nazis? Vonnegut reminds me of Woody Allen in that most of his works blend together as variations on a theme, usually deeply ethical. If you like Slaughterhouse-Five, you’ll probably enjoy Mother Night. A quote from pages 163-64:
Continue reading The last few books I read…