Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Review: Of Human Folly


This was my first reading of Paul Auster, and frankly, I didn’t know what to expect. He’s one of those authors that has a dedicated following, and his fans are probably his toughest critics. In regards to this book in particular, I know there was a lot of love and a lot of hate thrown its way, but I haven’t read a book about New York that captures the intricacies of its individuality as perfectly as Auster’s The Brooklyn Follies

Nathan Glass is a retired insurance salesman who moves to Brooklyn to die. He’s recently divorced and has been diagnosed with lung cancer (though we quickly learn his prognosis is in no way as dire as his introduction would have us believe). Nathan’s plan is to simple wait out the rest of his time in Brooklyn, writing a book of stories on human folly, but his plan quickly changes after a coincidental encounter with his nephew, Tom.
The subplots of Auster’s novel grow exponentially with every new person Nathan meets, quickly making his life a lot more interesting and eventful than he expected. The encounter with Tom brings an ex-convict bookstore owner into the picture, one who is always looking for a quick fortune. The sudden and unexplained presence of Tom’s nine-year-old niece, Lucy, creates a family mystery that introduces us to more of Nathan’s clan. Then there are those everyday people that end up playing a much bigger role in your life than you would have ever imagined—the B.P.M. (Beautiful Perfect Mother) down the street, the owner and his daughter of a Vermont bed-and-breakfast. It almost makes you think that everyone you meet will end up staying with you forever and shape the rest of your life.
The narrative moves quickly, though some of the subplots are more entertaining than others. The characters are all quite likable, and Auster ends up creating an optimistic tone while dissecting human behavior and the truths of life. From reading about the author and his other works, I get the feeling this book takes quite a turn away from his normal style. I’ve heard and read comments on how the ending is indicative of a stylistic change—this one ends on a positive note! I’m interested in reading Auster’s more popular novels, but I liked the message of happiness that he presented in this one.
Plus, this line can’t be beat:

“One should never underestimate the power of books.”

I’d like to hear other opinions on this novel or Auster’s others. Have you read this or any other Auster?


J.T. Oldfield said…

You had me at "ex-convict bookstore owner".

Salvatore said…

I have to say that this is probably one of my least favourite Auster books, just because it is so positive and not nearly as sharp as his other writings. I think it could have been much more succinct. The characters were certainly interesting, and I feel like I've been to many of the diners and stores that Nathan has been to.

Otherwise I've read most of Auster's oeuvre. 'The New York Trilogy' still stands above them all. 'The Music of Chance' is pretty wild, as it was written before the whole poker craze and has a very chilling ending. 'Timbuktu' is certainly worth a read for any dog lover (or non-lover) and probably is the most sentimental. 'Travels in the Scriptorium' was Samuel Beckett-like and ridiculously fascinating and metafictional. And his early memoir 'The Invention of Solitude' is one of the best memoirs I've ever read.