I tried to imagine the scene, to work my way back into the moment when the point of the pencil had first touched the paper. A mother is sitting next to her child as he takes his afternoon nap. She is reading a book, but when she glances up and sees him in that unguarded pose — head flung back and lolling to one side — she digs a pencil out of her pocket and begins to draw him. Since she has no paper, she uses the last page of the book, which happens to be blank. When the drawing is finished, she tears the page out of the book and puts it away — or else she leaves it there and forgets all about it. And if she forgets, years will go by before she opens the book again and rediscovers the lost drawing. Only then will she clip the brittle sheet from the binding, frame it, and hang it on the wall.
That’s from page 236 of Paul Auster‘s The Book of Illusions, which I am almost finished reading. It’s the first book of his I’ve read, and whenever I pick it up, I can’t put it down.
The above scene reminds me of a quote from, I think, John Le Carre that goes something like: “A good writer is someone who can watch a cat walk across the street and know what it’s like to be pounced upon by a Bengalese tiger.”
Conclusion: Paul Auster – Part 2.
The first time I heard Auggie Wren’s unsentimental Christmas story was in the film Smoke, around 1996, something like that. Harvey Kietel tells the whole story in a fanastic monologue at the end of the film. If you haven’t seen it, you should check it out. It’s a good movie.
I never paid much attention to the credits, but several years later I came to learn that Paul Auster had written the screenplay and that he’s a well-known writer — several of his novels have been well-received. My girlfriend reads all his stuff. Another friend of mine thinks highly of him. I still haven’t read any of his books, but today I finally got around to reading Auggie Wren’s Christmas Story, his short story that was the inspiration for Smoke.
It is impossible for me to read this story without thinking about the movie. Sometimes that’s a bad thing. (E.g., Short Cuts, based on the short stories of Raymond Carver.) Sometimes it’s not such a bad thing. (E.g., Field of Dreams, based on W.P. Kinsella‘s novel, Shoeless Joe.) In this case, the spirit of the film complements the original writing. I recommend them both.
So to recap: “Auggie Wren’s Christmas Story” (the full text), by Paul Auster. Auggie Wren’s Christmas story (the full monologue), by Harvey Kietel. Smoke, a good movie.