Sunday, May 25, 2008

A Quirky Place in Brooklyn

Paul Auster’s novel “The Brooklyn Follies” was our book club’s choice for the month of May. Paul Auster was born in Newark, New Jersey in 1947 and has written many novels. He has a great following, almost in the sense of a cult following. He is best known for his three experimental detective stories. Although most of his novels have a sense of bleakness, “The Brooklyn Follies” has been acclaimed as his most uplifting novel.

Most of the readers in our group liked the zany cast of characters. Nathan Glass, the hero-protagonist, has come to Brooklyn to die and to write “The Book Of Human Folly” which will “set down in the simplest, clearest language possible an account of every blunder, every pratfall, every embarrassment, (etc., etc.), (he) has committed in his long, checkered career as a man”. But, what happens to Nathan is that he becomes totally involved in the lives of the people he meets in this wonderful, quirky neighborhood. Nathan finds his long lost nephew, Tom, who is working for Harry Brightman, the charismatic, wildly eccentric owner of a thriving neighborhood bookstore. Through Tom and Harry, Nathan meets the other rather colorful characters in the story, including the Perfect Beautiful Mother aka P.B.M. and a long lost great niece who refuses to talk. There are several intriquing, amusing subplots in the story, one which involves a forgery, another which revolves around a sperm bank.

The author uses a different technique in “The Brooklyn Follies”. He cedes the story control to Nathan, who is a bad writer. Nathan’s writing is plagued with cliches and contrived or pedestrian language. But, the author has a reason for this switch. He needs Nathan to speak with a truly honest voice, deluding himself and keeping things moving along in a haphazard sort of way. The story moves along to a grand finale, so to speak, a happy ending for a happy man. Although, we were not sure why, on the last page, Auster injected the reference to Sept.11,2001, except that it was the last time people were able to be genuinely carefree and happy. It was simply a more frivolous time.

Most readers really enjoyed the book, although some thought it was just too contrived, with the perfect happy ending. The critics have called it Paul Auster’s warmest, most exuberant novel, a tribute to the glories of ordinary human life.

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