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Monday, April 30, 2012

City of Glass by Paul Auster

There's something so disingenuous and smug about post-modernism. The shallow bag of tricks, the meta-narration, the insertion of the author, all of it stinks of desperation.

From the opening pages of City of Glass, the first third of his New York Trilogy, Paul Auster demonstrates his ability to write crackling good prose, the kind that has thrilled readers for ages. He quickly and seemingly effortlessly engages the reader in the odd occurences in the life of his protagonist, Daniel Quinn.

Quinn is a former poet reduced to writing pulp mysteries under a pseudonym and still grieving over the deaths of his wife and son. Then his phone starts ringing in the middle of the night, and a stranger keeps asking for Paul Auster.

Unfortunately, once Quinn assumes the identity of this second Paul Auster, the novel loses itself in Mr. Auster's love of esoteric literary and philosophical discussions and silly wordplay. Quinn, as Auster, hires himself out as a guard for Peter Stillman, Jr. a man whose life and vocabulary have been fractured due to the childhood mistreatment of his father, a religious scholar who lost his grip on reality.

Even these early departures from the norms of detective fiction are very interesting, insofar as they hold a sort of funhouse-mirror up to the familiar patterns of hard-boiled detective novels. Peter Stillman is the cracked, bizarro-world version of Philip Marlowe's rich and eccentric clients. His off-putting patois, the result of his father's cruel experiment, is fascinating even as it drags on for far too long.

However, Mr. Auster can not sustain such gimmickry for long, a fact he seems to realize, since the novel runs only 133 pages. These pages follow Quinn as he encounters both the elder Stillman and a writer named Paul Auster. Quinn soon begins to lose his own hold on reality, and at that point the book becomes a tedious chore, as Mr. Auster makes whatever indecipherable point he has in mind about the nature of identity.

I was planning on writing combining the three short novels of The New York Trilogy into one review, but at this juncture I do not want to commit to having to read all three.

1 comment:

  1. I think that you cannot weigh in with such heavy judgement on a text that you clearly do not fully understand. I agree that this is a very perplexing novel, but surely that is the point? Auster is playing with the mystery genre in a very interesting way... everything in a mystery novel suddenly becomes clear and it is obvious what the truth is, but that does not reflect the real world in which we live. We live in a world where truth is (at best) subjective if it exists at all. Auster is taking these implications and playing around with the conclusion is a maddening way, but I think through doing so he very articulately raises some very interesting views about the modern world. Read the other two and see how his play with identity of characters and the novels he is writing continues to complexify as he explores the possibility of absolutism in the modern world.