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"In the city of my birth, I had a dream..."
The Brooklyn Follies by Paul Auster 
21st-Apr-2008 11:59 pm
Auster, Paul. The Brooklyn Follies. New York: Henry Holt, 2006.
          Summary: The recently divorced Nathan Glass has gone to Brooklyn to die...and ends up living instead. Indeed, "The Book of Human Folly" that he is writing becomes the story of his own life as misconnects, coincidences, and tragedies bring renewed hope, true love, and familial affection for Nathan and his extended family. His nephew Tom and niece Aurora fare especially well.
          Comments: Some right-wing commentators declared postmodernism dead after September 11, 2001. But while news of its demise, at least as an aesthetic category, turned out to be quite the exaggeration, there is no question that 9/11 has had a profound effect upon New York literati and postmodern novelist extraordinaire Paul Auster. Indeed, while not quite a renunciation of his earlier works, he seems to be having second thoughts about his written legacy, and The Brooklyn Follies differs remarkably in tone from anything he has done before.
          And it is an exquisitely beautiful one. Though there is a touch of self-referentiality to be found in the ways in which the novel's plot itself is a series of human follies and its protagonist is writing about human folly, there really isn't much postmodern about this Auster novel. For the most part it is good-humored, generous, earnest, and sincere, its simple prose pleasant and readable, its invocation of the year 2000 nostalgic. It advances the conviction that there is better around the corner if you've just the willpower to see things through; the best characters learn to transcend insults and forgive pain. And best of all, the novel is, especially in the beginning, laugh out loud funny. Imagine a grown man destroying a brand new toilet bowl on Thanksgiving in order to fish out an electric razor! Or a little girl pouring Coke into the gas tank of her great uncle's Oldsmobile.
          Although the novel concludes on 9/11, after Nathan is discharged from the hospital with a clean bill of health, you get the feeling that, after all the characters have already been through, that even this latest human folly will not fell them. If Aurora can send her daughter away and escape herself from a crazed Christian husband, if Tom can come back from the dead after quitting his PhD to become a taxi driver and find an amazing woman to be his wife, if Nathan can find love after divorce--then surely two planes crashing into the Twin Towers is only a temporary setback. Whether true or not, it's a nice thought, and reading this novel was like sinking languorously into a tub of warm bathwater. I highly recommend it to anyone seeking subtle pleasures.
          Notes: hardcover, 1st edition
          Rating: 7.5/10 - Gorgeous and generous. A Paul Auster novel for readers who don't normally like Paul Auster.
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