A few years back I stumbled into my first experience with a Paul Auster novel. I noticed the Oracle Night had just been released. I had heard great things about Auster. I picked up the book and finished it in a weekend. Since then I have read 5 or 6 of his other books, he is definately one of my favorite contemporary authors. A month or so ago his new novel, The Brooklyn Follies came out. I picked it up, and again finished it in a weekend. reflecting on it further down the line, it may be my favorite Auster book.
In some earlier novels Auster's characters may be hard to identify with. They brood quite a bit. More often than not they are the intellectuals who seem to conclude from their knowledge that everything is broken. And sometimes they would have a happier ending, sometimes not. In The Booklyn Follies however, the protaginist is Nathan Glass, a 59 year old who comes to Brooklyn to live out the last days of his life in solitude. One thing he does to pass time is to work on "The Book of Human Folly." He decides to write down every misspoken phrase, slip, fall or other embarssing moment he can remember in his life or others. He's not a bitter old man. There is a warmth to him and a nice sense of humour as well.
Of course, he can't die alone, that wouldn't be the book. Of course he needs to have a chance meeting with a family member, in this case his long lost nephew, and its from there that this book takes off. It seems, to use goofy book review terms, that this is the warmest, least cynical Auster I have read. It definately has a different feel than plenty of his other novels which are darker. The tone of this book, the conversations, and the characters are all heading towards something. They all seem hopeful more often than not. And for a change in Auster's case he doesn't throw them into ridiculously dark surroundings to challenge their hope (See, "In The Country of Last Things).
The book is set in the early days and summer of 2001, before 9/11. There has been a lot made of that. This reviewer makes that the central part of his review. Now the time and setting of this book is monumentally important, for sure. And the time and setting definitely leaves a strong lasting impression on you after you close the book. However the time and setting is not the be all, end all impression that sticks with the further you get away from the book. The lasting impression to me is the joys that come from those random meetings and the way they can snowball into something greater. It's ridiculously cheesy and overly sentimental perhaps, but Nathan Glass went to Brooklyn to die, and through random chance meetings wound up in some wonderful relationships which led to some rather exciting adventures, all snowballing on top of one another. I think you can get overly sentemental about a book or movie though, and take grander lessons from them. And if there was a lesson that Nathan Glass was learning shortly before 9/11 it was not to shut himself out to random chance. That sometimes, those chances lead to something greater, that we couldn't see. It's a very human story for Auster, and something that matters before or after 9/11, or even if 9/11 didn't happen at all. And, as the reviewer from San Francisco alluded to, I think that's the main point.