Alas, Paul Auster has fallen short this time.
If it’s an experiment, it’s an experiment which doesn’t work. We start off with Miles Heller, a man in his twenties running away from his past, and earning money by clearing away stuff people have left in repossessed houses. He likes to take photos of the things he’s left behind. I thought that was going somewhere, but I think Auster forgot about it.
Miles is forced to return to New York, and we end up reading chapters from the perspective of each of the housemates he is squatting with, as well as his estranged father.
It’s a novel chockful of Austeresque concerns, and yet it spreads way too thin without adequately developing any of them. To tell all the stories he begins in this novel, he would need to write a 900 page tome.
I wish Auster would finish what he starts. In many of the books he’s published in this flurry of the last ten years, he disrupts the narrative unnecessarily. If he achieved something by doing this, then by all means he should. But I feel that generally he has achieved very little.
I can’t generalise too much here; certain kinds of disruptions are part of Auster’s magic, but now they’re stopping him telling the story which seemed to be burning bright in his mind at first. (And yet in his previous novel, Invisible, I felt the frame narrative actually worked well.)
Side note: in almost every Auster novel, he features a protagonist who was born in 1947, his own year of birth. In this novel, it is Miles’s father who was born in that year. He’s moved onto the next generation; most of the characters are his children’s age.
Concluding note: it was enjoyable enough to read, especially when each chapter is taken on its own. Auster gets a chance to write at length about baseball, luck, loneliness and reconciliation. It just all adds up to less than it should.