Thursday, December 8, 2011

Auster In A Locked Room

I am pushing to finish reading "The Locked Room," the final story in Paul Auster's The New York Trilogy. I hope that by the time my evening bus commute is done, I'll have seen the end of this book. While a lot of what Auster does in these stories is clever and fun, I just have to say that by the time "The Locked Room" is underway it's clear that Paul is not, as the kids say, bringing it. If the kids still say that, or if they ever did. This story is not brilliant work.

Admittedly I'm not getting all of the references Auster has woven into the narrative, and I suppose that there could be whole levels of meaning that I'm too ignorant to even see in this trilogy. But the main problem with "The Locked Room" is that the story itself is not compelling and the prose is sort of flat. Auster attempts to create suspense with the cliche of his narrator announcing, "It was then that I should have seen what was to come" or "Little did I know then that I was living in denial" and cetera, in order to prick up our ears and fill us with expectation. Alas, too much of this stuff (like, more than zero instances) is just a boy crying wolf, and by the time Auster's protagonist claims "I was going to find him and I was going to kill him," I am merely yawning. Whatever, Mr Narrator. Maybe the point of all this meaningless action is that action has no meaning, but at least put some effort into your presentation. I'm doing all the work here, and it's not worth the time or labor.

Well, I have one more chapter to go. It'd best be one hell of a chapter. Next up, I'm reading either Beckett or Nabokov.

Edited on 12/9/11 to add: I just don't think the final chapter spun the whole trilogy into shape the way I guess it was intended to, but the last couple of pages were quite fine and I like the image Auster leaves the reader with. So my verdict is that The New York Trilogy is, as my friend Carl says, "a fine first novel" but it doesn't live up to the reviews it got at the time. As I said in my last post, that probably says a lot more about reviews and reviewers than it says about Auster or his book. There were big swaths of these stories that I liked a lot, but I just can't make myself unreservedly recommend them. The stories concern themselves primarily with the relationship of writers to writing, with the author to the work, but in the end the narratives aren't actually self-referential in what seems a meaningful way; there's no real center, no fixed point. I get that the lack of a fixed point is part of Auster's theme, but I just don't think he really got there with this set of stories. Though I think that writers would find them valuable studies. Certainly I've gotten some interesting ideas by mulling over what Auster did and didn't do here. I will likely read more of his books, because I'd like to see what Auster can do with his looping postmodernism when he's not writing about writing.


  1. I've got to give you props (and I don't know if the kids ever say that either!) for sticking with it. If a book doesn't thrill me, a couple chapters is the most it can ask of me.

    Hope you enjoy the next book much more!

  2. Well, I've stuck with Auster for 350 pages; I can give him 25 more, I think. I can only think of three novels I haven't finished in the last decade. Two of them I may go back to some day. One of them makes me angry just thinking about it.

    There's a lot of fine stuff in The New York Trilogy, but it's not consistantly fine. I'm slogging through some less-fine passages just now. Who knows? The ending could be remarkable.

    If I read the Beckett next, I know it'll be rough going in places but I'll be glad I read it. Such is my relationship with old Sam. If I read the Nabokov next, I'll be reading a book I've read twice already; I know I'll enjoy it but I also know I'll get pissed at Nabokov because I can't read a book of his without eventually feeling insulted. Such is my relationship with old Vladimir. I've been reading Lydia Davis' short stories for months now, and half the time I'm in love and half the time I'm indifferent.