Book Chat 17: Paul Auster/Man in the Dark
Evil Editor said...I thought it was fantastic.
Blogger ril said...I thought it was really magic.
Blogger Dave F. said...It was an interesting book. Not what I expected as an ending but satisfying. Since EE deals with opening 150 words that is one fascinating opening. It just lays out the entire story.
Blogger Evil Editor said...It was enjoyable enough, but on page 70 when you start to realize that the world of the narrator's story may actually exist, I went Whoa! Cool.
Blogger Steve said...I dunno, EE. It never seemed to me that the alternate-reality stuff - the "Owen Brick" story - was anything more than a fantasy Brill was making up to distract himself. Which would be why it ended so abruptly, I think.
Blogger Evil Editor said...Page 82, he's talking about experiencing the Newark race riots and how once you experience violence on a major scale it's easy to imagine worse and he says, Just think it and chances are it will happen. Coming right after we discover that the two worlds may intersect, I considered it possible we were dealing with something Twilight Zoney, that what Brill thought in the dark became reality in a parallel world.
Blogger ril said...Maybe this foreshadows Titus' death. Or perhaps the account of Titus' death shows us there is worse that we can imagine.
Blogger fairyhedgehog said...I didn't pick up on that EE. I'm not sure that the two world's ever did quite intersect.
Blogger Evil Editor said...They don't intersect, but they could have. If the character in the story were real and came to kill his creator. That would be a different book, but one I think I'd have still liked a lot.
Blogger Steve said...I was certainly wondering what would happen if Brill continued the Brick story until the two of them actually met ... but then it all of a sudden didn't happen.
Blogger fairyhedgehog said...I did wonder how Brill would handle Brick entering his world. Would Auster let that happen and would Brill die? But he sidestepped that by killing Brick. We could have lost our narrator. That's the advantage of writing in the present tense, there is no guarantee that the narrator will be there beyond the words he is currently writing. So it was getting quite tense for me.
Blogger Dave F. said...Dreams are typically reflections of real life, so it wouldn't be unexpected that his night stories would be like bad dreams and reflect some dread aspect of his real life. I liked that shift, it gave the dream immediacy and importance.
Blogger fairyhedgehog said...One minor point, I found the lack of speech marks irritating. It made it less easy to find speech when I was looking back over the book.
Blogger ril said...I was wondering if anybody found present tense distracting. I didn't, it pulled me right in. But often people critiquing other people rail against present tense...
Blogger Evil Editor said...I wasn't bothered by the tense. Maybe it helped that there was plenty of past tense as well.
Blogger fairyhedgehog said...I barely noticed the present tense and usually I hate it. That tells me that this is very well done.
Dave F. said...I had no problem with the tense, present or past.
Blogger Steve said...ril, I think the immediacy of present tense works well, in this one - it's very much whatever's passing through his head *right now*. I don't have a problem with it.
Blogger fairyhedgehog said...I was amazed that the book spans a single night and yet there's a liftime of story in it.
Blogger ril said...And on a similar theme... Did anybody look at it, a houseful of introspective, miserable, damamged people, and think, Oh God, Literary?
Blogger Dave F. said...Ril, yes I did until the story changed and reflected their real lives.
Blogger Evil Editor said...If you reject the idea that the story he's making up in the dark could be real, it is literary, isn't it?
Blogger fairyhedgehog said...ril: no, I didn't because I was pulled in right from the start. I've had a few restless nights lately and maybe it was a sense of fellow feeling but the main story seemed amazingly real to me. I was sad when Brick got killed. I'd been interested in his story and when he died I was thinking, "Well, what's next then?". We had a third of the book still to go.
Blogger ril said...I think Literary gets a bad press as being turgid, miserable, self-conscious, over-wrought prose. This was an easy read. Auster doesn't let the writing get in the way of the story. His simplicity of words is a stark contrast to Rushdie's embellishments.
Blogger fairyhedgehog said...That's a good point, ril. I love his style. I didn't think anyone was writing these days in such a deceptively simple style and I found it refreshing.
Blogger Steve said...I thought pretty much from the get-go that this was literary fiction with a lot of metafictional content. (I've got no problem with that. Just because I write generic horror and fantasy tat, it doesn't mean I don't read proper books!)
Anonymous Anonymous said...It definitely literary, look how long it takes to write the comments while people think.
Blogger Dave F. said...I've been through several "Dread family secret" in real life and to tell be honest, it can get rather silly. I mean how many times can we punish children and grandchildren for something like an illegitimate birth or the "wrong" father... What could be so horrible that everything changes thereafter? That's Brill's story. He was changing history so the dread family secret wouldn't happen.
Blogger ril said...This isn't Auster's first metafictional, magic-realism work, but I was struck reading this of the similarities to the work Haruki Murakami who also picks at the edges of the real world to see what's underneath.
Blogger Dave F. said...Brick dies suddenly just as Titus dies suddenly. They are the same sudden death in so many ways -- unseen and unexpected. And Titus was the one who went while BRill was the one who stayed behind, just like BRick. Brick is Augie Brill's invention to distract him from the sleepless night. He's trying hard to understand what has happened in real life. He doesn't know how to fix the problem he is living with (figuratively and in person). He's in a house of pain. Brick is as clueless as Brill is puzzled in a hole surrounded by conspirators. Notice Brick's world is still at war but it is a civilized revolt here in the USA. His break with history obviates the need for a foreign war.
Blogger ril said...We seemed to have a lot of "tropes". The Literary trope as mentioned; alternate realities; the intrusion of, and interaction with, the author (reminded me of Sophie's World); magic portals (the "hole"; the injection)...
Blogger Steve said...I was reminded, a few times, of John Gardner's "October Light" - both books feature a character shut away, in some sense, and finding sources of distraction while they're putting off dealing with an uncomfortable reality.
Blogger ril said...Was Brill's story of Owen Brick a novel or a movie?
Blogger Evil Editor said...Strikes me as movie-like.
Blogger ril said...Movies, of course, were also central to Auster's Book of Illusions.
Blogger Evil Editor said...Of course? Was that our homework assignment?
Blogger ril said...No, sorry, that's just what it says in my Cliff's Notes here.
Blogger Dave F. said...The art of making a small film is to deliver a huge climax with just tiny words and simple, ordinary movements. To state the obvious but necessary, everything in a movie is huge so expressions, blinks, simple gestures can be tiny. On the stage, the audience is farther away and the actors smaller. The movements must be grand and sweeping. In a novel, we're back to details and microscopic examinations just like the movie. a very tiny detail in a short sentence or a single word can carry the entire meaning. That's what he saw in those movies.
Blogger fairyhedgehog said...I'd assumed Brick's story was a novel and that Brick was playing it out in his mind prior to writing it down. There's no textual evidence for that at all, as far as I can see. It shows how easy it is to project our own way of thinking onto a what we read. The way he tells it is more like watching a film.
Blogger Steve said...I would have thought "novel". A lot of the Brick story seems to be internal to Brick's POV - things he's thinking and feeling, not what he's doing. I guess it's not impossible to convey these things in a movie, though.
Blogger Evil Editor said...I was almost as into the story of Noriko. The Tokyo Story summary. Made me want to find a copy of that film. In fact it made me want to see the crucial scenes they discussed in several movies.
Blogger Evil Editor said...I decided to read one chapter before going to bed. Imagine my surprise when I realized the book had only one chapter.
Blogger fairyhedgehog said...So what time did you get to bed, EE?
Blogger Evil Editor said...Had to finish it all. You know how you flip ahead to see how long the next chapter is so you can decide if you have time to read it? Usually it turns out to be fewer than 180 pages.
Blogger ril said...At least it had enough double-space breaks that I could pee occasionally.
Blogger Dave F. said...It's a well structured book. The two stories (Brill and Brick) blend well and don't need chapter separations. In fact, it moght be said that the story would suffer it it was not told as one unit, one night, the one episode where Brill breaks through the sorrow and guilt and tries to heal his family after a horrendous event.
Blogger Steve said...I suppose if it keeps you up all night reading it, well, that's thematically consistent, isn't it?
Blogger Evil Editor said...There's a YouTube of Auster reading from the book. Almost an hour's worth.
Blogger Dave F. said...I have to check out that youtube.
Blogger fairyhedgehog said...Did you all enjoy it? I loved it but I found some of it rather difficult to take - the descriptions of horrors that had happened. I did think it was a wonderful book though. Thank you to whoever chose it because I would never have found it without this book chat.
Blogger Steve said...yes, I liked it. And I think the horrors are meant to be hard to take ... which is why Brill is where he is; lying awake at night with his thoughts revolving around things he'd rather not think about, but can't avoid.
Blogger ril said...I enjoyed it. At times, I thought it was going to be a kind of Literary Misery, with Auster playing the Annie character, imprisoning and threatening to kill the hapless literary critic. But it wasn't, really.
Blogger Evil Editor said...I think it's as good as anything we've read for the chats.
I give it five stars.
Blogger Dave F. said...Would anyone have read it if the author had said it was a book about coming to terms with a death?
Blogger Evil Editor said...I try to have as little advance info as possible about a book or movie when I experience it.
Blogger ril said...I noticed some similar devices to Murakami's The Wind Up Bird Chronicle. The hole echoed the well in Murakami's book (though not as significant in Auster's). Both books have a brutal death during wartime. both have themes of magic realism.
Blogger Evil Editor said...I had a good idea of how the guy had died from the fact that there was film of it. I wondered if I was supposed to get the hints or if it was supposed to be a shocking revelation at the end.
Blogger ril said...I think Auster is smarter than to think he could be coy about that. The Daniel Pearl video really did shock the world.
Blogger Steve said...Well, we knew from the outset that Titus had been killed - we didn't know (or, at least, I didn't realize) that we were actually going to see it happen. (I thought that scene was done really well, myself - just the right level of unflinching realism without sliding over into graphic gore.)
Blogger fairyhedgehog said...I was puzzled by the references to film of the death. I'm guessing that even if I'd realised what he meant, the actual scene itself would still be shocking. What do you think the book was saying? That life is dreadful, or can be, but we all falter on? Or what?
Blogger Evil Editor said...Maybe it's the same as the film: Life is disappointing, isn't it? And I want you to be happy.
Blogger Dave F. said...What is the aftermath of a death? That's the question that Auster asked and in some ways answered. I've been through a few too many deaths not to see that. And sudden, violent, unreasonable death really messes with the mind and creates traps that linger through the years.
Blogger ril said...Certainly enough to make you want to rewrite history...
Blogger Dave F. said...I had five coworkers dies on Flight 427 (it's got a wikipedia page). I was a friend of four. The coworker I didn't know had an even more tragic story. All work stopped for a week and we had 500 employees. We weren't a small company. An an airplane crash has goriness that haunts me. I heard the stories of the first responders. I heard the stories of the people who weren't on the flight. That is why Brill lays awake.
Blogger ril said...Brill abstracts Titus' death to cope with it: Titus becomes not a person but an idea of a person. Fiction, movies, also abstract reality and represent ideas of people. I've only read this Auster and "Book of Illusions". Im definitely inclined to read a few more of his. This is a guy who knows how to tell a story.
With some of the characters and setups in Brick's story being a little two-dimensional, did anyone think Auster might be suggesting critics can criticize but they can't write...
Blogger Evil Editor said...The chat is shorter when the book is better. Easier to think of what to say about a flawed book. Plus we're missing a few regulars.
vkw said...I apologize for not be able to be here, to discuss the book. Something came up which is usually the case on Sat. morning. I could not put this book down - but had to after 90 pages and then finished the rest the next time I had an opportunity. Auster can tell a story and he certainly did well with theme, I think, "Life is disappointing, isn't it? And I want you to be happy." But there was this sadness to it and a realization that sometimes we cause our own unhappiness and sometimes tragedy happens we have no control of - yet we think we should have. And sometimes, unhappiness happens we can change. There was a underlining sense of guilt as well for things the characters did not cause and the things they did cause in their life. I think that was the message of the dream - or the need for the dream - to have control of something - when Brill had no control over anything that happened in his life over the past year. But it ended with just a small whisper of hope - I can control today. I can enjoy a good breakfast today. I can be happy today - in this moment. I was most surprise, and even shocked, when it is revealed Brill knew Titus quite well. He must have had tremendous feelings when he saw him killed - but he distanced himself from his own feelings - hiding behind his dream and his granddaughter - recognizing and understanding her guilt and grief but not dealing with his own. And, interesting enough, he complains at one point that this is his wife's character defect. That she never knew herself. A beautiful snapshot of human character, written so well and captured so delicately - we always dislike in others the most what we dislike in ourselves. I would have never of read this book without this blog. Thank you for the opportunity to experience something so beautiful.
Blogger sylvia said...ARGH!
Blogger Matthew said...I missed the whole chat! Dammit...I just can't wake up that early on a saturday. After reading all the comments I can see that I don't have anything new to add. I liked it as well.
Blogger BuffySquirrel said...Sorry, EE. I did want to be here, but it's airshow season, and husband made a last-minute decision to go to the IAT.
Blogger Evil Editor said...You have our permission to dump him. But we can't absolve you from tossing in a comment or two about the book.
Blogger Jeb said...I too was struck by the power of the opening paragraphs. Superb pacing, and the writing drew me smoothly onward until far past bedtime.
Blogger Aimee K. Maher said...I can't believe I read the whole thing. No, I don't have the book. I meant the comments. Like I have nothing better to do than pump up my already bloated, damn Amazon WISHLIST!
Blogger BuffySquirrel said...Well, the book wasn't my sort of thing at all. But I enjoyed it muchly, except for the dip where the narrator started making excuses for his affairs, which offered nothing I haven't read a million times before, but one dip in a very entertaining novel is okay. I also do not like this trend towards not bothering with speech marks. It isn't always clear to me what's speech and what's thought and what's narrative, and it seems to me it's the writer's job to MAKE it clear, not mine to puzzle over it. I suppose it's some kind of po-mo thing where immersion doesn't matter? la Good book.