Man in the Dark
I am not sure I should even try to recount what happens in Paul Auster’s Man in the Dark. Not because I am afraid of spoiling some secret, but rather because so much happens in the 180 pages of this short novel I doubt I could do it justice. The gist of the story is that retired book critic, 72-year-old August Brill, while staying with his daughter while he recovers from a car accident, is having trouble sleeping. Trying hard not to think about his real life (wife’s recent death, daughter’s painful divorce, granddaughter’s grief over her boyfriend who has been brutally killed), Brill passes his sleepness nights by making up stories. He imagines an alternate universe in which the World Trade Center is still standing but the contested Presidential election in 2000 led to a bloody civil war as the blue states seceded from the union. Auster’s book isn’t particularly political. It never really feels like anti-Bush screed, it seems much more measured than that. (Spoken like an anti-Bush blogger…) And the fictional alternate universe isn’t really the point of the story anyway. In the end it all comes back to the love and loss in Brill’s family–not necessarily a result of political consequences, but not necessarily immune from them either.
The fact that Auster manages to tie so many disparate ideas into this thin book without it ever feeling crowded is pretty impressive. And there are certain preternatural aspects of the story within the story that didn’t bother this literalist in the way such things normally do. I even found myself enjoying the extended descriptions and analysis of classic films interwoven into Brill’s relationship with his granddaughter. In many ways this is a book that I probably should not have liked given my preferences for linear storylines rooted in the possible and plausible. Yet for some reason, or perhaps many reasons, I really did like it.