by PAUL AUSTER
A steady unpredictability
In my experience, there’s no better test for a book than being able to hand it over to my father and confidently tell him that he’ll like it. Unfortunately, I was only 100 pages into the book before I was forced to give it the test. My family had gone to a department store, and, as in most cases when we shop, he wound up waiting for us on a bench next to the entrance. I felt that even a bad book would be better than nothing and handed him my paperback copy.
Fortunately for me, and more importantly for Dad, my shaky confidence in Paul Auster turned out to have been solidly grounded all the way to page 37 where my Dad stopped because we were ready to check out.
I can’t make any promises for the Dads of the world past page 37. They book takes a few shallow dips into the politics pool, and if you don’t agree with Mr. Auster’s liberal-leaning character (which I pretty much did), you might find yourself a little put off a certain spots in the book. However, it doesn’t dive so far in that the book becomes enjoyable only to someone with a certain distaste for President Bush.
Among Mr. Auster’s several virtues is the ability to write unpredictable scripts. Though the book does not in the least resemble a suspense thriller, I found myself constantly struck at the fact that I had no idea how one event might lead to another. Still, the book was grounded in its narrator, a self-professed “curmudgeon.”
The Brooklyn Follies follows Tom and his uncle Nathan as they struggle through everyday life in Brooklyn, and though Tom’s sister seems to be leading life to its most dramatic (with sex, drugs and religion to boot), Auster’s two heroes feel comfortingly normal. Nathan is beginning to reach the end of his life and settling down into retirement in Brooklyn when he reconnects with his nephew, Tom, whose life seems to be stuck on pause while he sorts through his own disillusionment with the world. When Nathan tries to help his nephew out of his funk, Lucy, Tom’s sister’s daughter, makes a surprise appearance and throws the whole family onto a journey stop the inertia gathering against their human struggle.
Nothing makes for good reading like two identifiable heros in unexpected yet seemingly plausible fixes, and this books seems full of them.
Meanwhile, Auster has outfitted even minor characters with a rich, detailed past. Even the waitress Marina, whose involvement in the plot is only marginal, seems outfitted with dazzling description and a fairly detailed back story.
All in all, with a fantastically unexpected, a richly peopled storyline and a quietly easy writing style, The Brooklyn Follies is a perfect book for a long flight or an evening at a fireside.