MANINTHEDARK

The Jewish Chronicle - - Arts&entertainment -

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

PHOTO: AP

Paul Auster: sto­ries within sto­ries, writ­ers within char­ac­ters

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