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Man in the Dark by Paul Auster
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Man in the Dark (2008)

by Paul Auster, Paul Auster

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Showing 1-5 of 58 (next | show all)
Man in the Dark is a short novel (180 pages) composed of one long chapter. I would categorize it as meta-fiction once removed or fictionalized meta-fiction (In this it reminds me of 2 novels I read last year: Queen of the Prisons of Greece, by Osman Lins and Diary of a Bad Year, by J.M. Coetzee). August Brill, the storyteller/ protagonist, is a 72 year old retired book critic and insomniac who lies awake at night telling himself stories while worrying about his 47 year old daughter Miriam and his 23 year old granddaughter Katya and while grieving for his dead wife Sonia.
For the first 2/3 of the novel, the narrative switches back and forth between August's memories and musings and the story he invents to distract himself from the same. The protagonist of August's story is Owen Brick (a professional magician called the Great Zavello)who finds himself in a parallel world where he is a corporal in the Independents’ army. In this parallel world, 9/11 never happened and the U.S. never went to war against Iraq. Instead, America is caught up in its 4th year of a civil war between the Independents (16 states) and the Federals, with 13 million dead as of April 19, 2007.
Unfortunately, August/ Auster abruptly ends the story of Owen Brick on page 118. From then on, the novel stays with August and his memories as he responds to Katya's demands to tell her about his marriage to her grandmother. Well and good, but this just isn't as interesting as the parallel worlds story (which itself is too convoluted to summarize here). Sigh!
At its best, however, Man in the Dark lives up to what could be the epigraph of the memoir August never finishes or the collection of stories he never writes: the one line from Rose Hawthorne's poetry that the book critic in August admires: "As the weird world rolls on." ( )
  Paulagraph | May 25, 2014 |
This story turned out to be darker than I expected, and the initial structural conceits ended sooner than expected. But I'm still giving this a high rating simply because Paul Auster always creates novels that intrigue and entertain me. I'm lit-smitten, and there's not much I can do about it at this point. Suffice to say that this was an interesting and compelling short novel, but the later development went astray from my desires and expectations. So this is a three-and-a-half rating, but Auster gets rounded up to four stars, because he's written so many books that I absolutely adore. Still, be aware that I cringed in public at the painful revelation of the central tragedy that overshadows most of the action. If you're easily injured psychically, be on your guard. ( )
  phredfrancis | Feb 8, 2014 |
There is something primitive about Paul Auster. This primitiveness is lodged exactly where it should not be, in the fluency and ease of his storytelling. As reviewers always say, he is an inexhaustible source of stories, and in this book the stories never stop: there’s never any danger of slowing down; that is fitting because somehow slowing down feels like treacherous thing to do. What would happen if one story failed to succeed the last in a seamless sequence? Why should that seem like a problem? It feels that way, I think, because despite Auster’s themes—the book is about a widowed older man, his daughter who was abandoned by her husband, and the daughter’s daughter whose boyfriend died in Iraq—this is a book in which stories are used as distractions to avoid thinking more deeply. Auster is absolutely accomplished as a storyteller, and that theme (using stories to distract yourself) is built into the book. The principal character invents some stories of his own, to help him not to think about his family. That much Auster knows, and controls. He even has his principal character kill off the protagonist of his own invented story. But at another level, Auster doesn’t seem aware that all the stories in his book, and not just the ones invented by his narrator, serve the function of avoiding real introspection, real difficulty. As evidence of that I take the quality that binds all the stories in this novel together: the stories all run with a predictable, uninterrupted fluency. They are like driving by the scene of an accident: you slow up a little, but not enough to get involved. The story that the narrator invents in order not to think about his own past is itself as threadbare as they come (a post-apocalyptic fantasy, along the lines of any number of TV fantasy movies), but that doesn’t seem to bother either the narrator (who is supposedly a literary critic, and should really show some embarrassment at his own story), or the novelist (who is actually a prolific writer, and could easily have added a subtle sign that he didn’t find his narrator’s invented stories as entrancing as his narrator does).

That is what I mean by “primitive”: the architecture of the postmodern novel is there, and there’s a clarity of structure and pacing that few novelists can match, but Auster seems relentlessly to misunderstand the function of narrative: it cannot only be a balm or distraction. Narrative has to break down or get itself in trouble, or falter, or question itself—not just the way a character might question the truth of a narrative, or its appropriateness, or its usefulness in distracting him—but the way a character might fail just telling a story, fail in the telling and not just in deciding whether to tell, the way this sentence is failing because I can’t quite get my thought about it right.

There are a few moments in Man in the Dark when the flow of stories stop, but they are stage-managed to create a little shocks, or streams of tears: and that, too, is a kind of evasion, an easier sort of crisis, something not at all genuinely persistently moving. The surprise ending of the entire book is one such moment.

Spoiler alert: I’m about to say what that surprise is. But note: books that can actually be spoiled by giving away their endings are trivial sorts of books like murder mysteries and detective stories. This book presents itself as literary fiction, and there shouldn’t be a spoiler in it. In this book the surprise is that the grand-daughter’s boyfriend was kidnapped in Iraq, and the family has seen his gruesome execution video on the internet.

When I read that I groaned. Isn’t ordinary human suffering enough to create empathy and significance? Is it really necessary to tack on something spectacular, something topical and political, something garish and horrible? Doesn’t that sort of ornament just distract from what really counts—which is, in this case, that a person has died? The surprise ending is tremendously irritating, not for its politics, but because it functions just the way an elaborate murder does in Agatha Christie: it helps us not to think about what we are actually witnessing, a death. Readers of murder mysteries expect that kind of superficiality. Here, where there are literary ambitions, and where many pages are devoted to people’s feelings and thoughts, it is not just annoying: it is bewildering that a novelist could think such a surprise is sufficient, justified, necessary, sensible, or even expressive. ( )
  JimElkins | Apr 5, 2013 |
This is intriguing in alot of ways and is quite true to experimental fiction form in the twisted sense that the main character is an author and his character comes to live in some sort of literary alternate universe where the real war waging isn't between the US and Iraq but between the red and blue states. The novel sort of loses that momentum though and speaks more about the intimate experience of getting older and reminiscing about the whole of your life and the ones you've lost. It's definitely not the best nor my favorite Paul Auster novel but it's ideal for someone who is an older reader and also has many memories that haunt. ( )
  kirstiecat | Mar 31, 2013 |
One of the worst books I have read in recent memory. I would bet there haven't been five others I have at least attempted this past twelve months that have been worse than this sentimental fluff. How a writer as good as Paul Auster could have written something like this let alone have it published is beyond me. This book will do nothing but leave a bad mark on his memory and it did not have to be. Not everything we write is worth keeping. There is something delusional or greedy in the publication of this book. And the reviews that praise this novel a masterpiece? Oh my. What fools are in our midst. As soon as I get home next month I will list this P.O.S. on amazon.com and hope another fool like me (who hasn't yet read my own review) purchases it. ( )
  MSarki | Mar 31, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 58 (next | show all)
Auster reminds us that each of us looks at existence through story-colored lenses. The world we inhabit is literally shaped by Story. We all have our "life stories," and these govern how we see ourselves and others, how we interpret events and memories and expectations. When our saviors and teachers speak to us about the greatest truths, whether of religion or philosophy, they always speak to us in parables. When artists, or ordinary people, talk about what truly matters, they start and end by telling stories, wonderful, amazing stories—like those in the works of Paul Auster.
 
The “parallel worlds” visited and occupied by an aging intellectual’s troubled mind and heart assume intriguing metafictional form in [this] challenging novel. ... Auster’s lucid prose and masterly command of his tricky narrative’s twists, turns and mirrorings keep us riveted to the pages. ... Probably Auster’s best novel, and a plaintive summa of all [his] books that ... have gone into its making.
added by Roycrofter | editKirkus Reviews (May 1, 2008)
 

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Paul Austerprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Auster, Paulmain authorall editionsconfirmed
Bocchiola, MassimoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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For David Grossman

and his wife Michal

his son Jonathan

his daughter Ruthi

and in memory of Uri
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I am alone in the dark, turning the world around in my head as I struggle through another bout of insomnia, another white night in the great American wilderness.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0805088393, Hardcover)

A new novel with a dark political twist from “one of America’s greats.”*

Man in the Dark is Paul Auster’s brilliant, devastating novel about the many realities we inhabit as wars flame all around us.

Seventy-two-year-old August Brill is recovering from a car accident in his daughter’s house in Vermont. When sleep refuses to come, he lies in bed and tells himself stories, struggling to push back thoughts about things he would prefer to forget—his wife’s recent death and the horrific murder of his granddaughter’s boyfriend, Titus. The retired book critic imagines a parallel world in which America is not at war with Iraq but with itself. In this other America the twin towers did not fall and the 2000 election results led to secession, as state after state pulled away from the union and a bloody civil war ensued. As the night progresses, Brill’s story grows increasingly intense, and what he is so desperately trying to avoid insists on being told. Joined in the early hours by his granddaughter, he gradually opens up to her and recounts the story of his marriage. After she falls asleep, he at last finds the courage to revisit the trauma of Titus’s death.

Passionate and shocking, Man in the Dark is a novel of our moment, a book that forces us to confront the blackness of night even as it celebrates the existence of ordinary joys in a world capable of the most grotesque violence.

*Time Out (Chicago)

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:49:25 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Seventy-two-year-old August Brill is recovering from a car accident in his daughter's house in Vermont. When sleep refuses to come, he lies in bed and tells himself stories, struggling to push back thoughts about things he would prefer to forget--his wife's recent death and the horrific murder of his granddaughter's boyfriend, Titus. The retired book critic imagines a parallel world in which America is not at war with Iraq but with itself. In this other America the twin towers did not fall and the 2000 election results led to secession, as state after state pulled away from the union and a bloody civil war ensued. As the night progresses, Brill's story grows increasingly intense, and what he is so desperately trying to avoid insists on being told. Joined in the early hours by his granddaughter, he gradually opens up to her and recounts the story of his marriage. After she falls asleep, he at last finds the courage to revisit the trauma of Titus's death.--From publisher description.… (more)

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