REVIEWED BY DAVID HERMAN
PAUL AUSTER’S thin new novel starts off as a story within a story. This is not news for Auster fans (or critics). The author of The Brooklyn Follies enjoys these games.
Augustus Brill, old, ill, virtually immobile following a serious car accident and mourning the death of his wife, now lives in an old house in Vermont with his daughter (divorced) and granddaughter (mourning the death of her boyfriend). He can’t sleep so he makes up stories at night. One story is about Owen Brick, a young magician from New York who crosses over into an alternate reality where America is at war — with itself.
The magician wakes up somewhere that feels like contemporary America but isn’t. It’s an America where history has taken an odd turn. The liberal North has seceded and started a second civil war. Strange and unpleasant things keep happening to Brick. He has woken up in a world that is partKafka, part-Twilight Zone. Then he is told the only way out is to kill the man responsible for the war, who happens to be Augustus Brill.
So far, so annoying. Meta-fiction 101. Then, not surprisingly, Auster seems to lose interest in the story of the magician-cum-hitman. And then several things happen which will either redeem this novel or condemn it totally depending on your point of view. First, Auster/Brill starts telling a number of other stories. Short, compact, realistic and very powerful. Two involve the
Paul Auster: stories within stories, writers within characters