Monday, August 9, 2010


MAN IN THE DARK is a novel by Paul Auster that examines how we deal with war, tragedy, aging, family dynamics, and how we confront adversity in our lives. Auster does so by creating a multi-layered work with parallel realities. There are many stories in the book, some in real time, some from the past, some invented in the mind of a character, and others that exist in films. All of this is integrated into a seamless narrative where elements reflect and echo themes from other sections of the book. 

August Brill is at his daughter's house in Vermont recovering from an auto accident. He lives with his daughter Miriam and his granddaughter Katya. An insomniac, he tells himself stories while lying in bed trying to block out the trauma of the recent death of his wife Sonia and the horrible murder of Katya's boyfriend Titus. One major narrative he imagines is a war story where America is not in a war in Iraq, but at war with itself, a new bloody civil war between the red states and blue states that has evolved out of the 2000 election. The main character in this alternative world is Owen Brick. He is recruited to kill the man who has invented the war - August Brill himself.

Katya and August watch films all day. Cinema is like a drug to help them forget, and put themselves in another place. They watch intimate family stories - Bicycle Thief, Grand Illusion, The World of Apu, and Tokyo Story. They discuss how the films use inanimate objects to express emotional power in their respective narratives.

Eventually, they face their own reality and demons. Stories within stories, tunneling back to the past. How Brill met Sonia, his betrayals of her, their divorce, and eventual coming together again, only to end with her death. Miriam dealing with her isolation after the breakup with her husband. Katya's withdrawal from the world because of her guilt over the death of Titus. Other stories from friends about war and death that foreshadow the horrible murder of Titus.

In the past, I read The New York Trilogy, a set of three novellas that laid the groundwork for Auster's approach to writing. His books can be like puzzles and labyrinths, but also reveal stories of great psychological depth. His prose is lean, clear, and poetic. There are no wasted words. Everything counts. 

MAN IN THE DARK is an intense, stark, and beautiful book about grief, seperation, loss, and how we find meaning in a world that at times seems overwhelming.

No comments:

Post a Comment