Michael Dirda‘s assessment in the New York Review of Books of Paul Auster‘s most recent novel, Man in the Dark, is Dirda at his best. The piece locates the many connections between characters and plots among Auster’s novels, and makes a case for Auster as an inheritor of great works in fantasy, mystery, and science fiction—and somehow Dirda pulls this off without coming off like a pedant.
That’s partly because Dirda’s enthusiasm for writing in general is utterly clear, and partly because he’s done a lot of homework, locating those layers and echos within Auster’s works. The hell of it is that Dirda isn’t completely sold on Man in the Dark—“the novel as a whole strikes me as generally baggy in its design, while overly contrived in its ending,” he writes. But he deeply admires Auster’s work throughout all his novels, particularly the way he respects the efficiency of mystery writing:
[I]t is little wonder that Auster values absolute clarity and precision, and that his sentences eschew all obvious flash: nothing can be allowed to get in the way of the story. Indeed, much of Auster’s dramatis personae is made up of character actors playing various stock eccentrics and oddballs, while his male protagonists usually resemble one another, being clones of Paul Auster. No matter. Those stories, set against the western desert, or on the mean streets of New York, or during the Depression or World War II, or in various science fictional other Americas, are irresistible.
Dirda follows that statment with an intriguing line: “Till recently, few innovative, literary novelists could rival Auster in his gusto for reframing tales of mystery, fantasy, and adventure.” That “till recently” opens up the question of which writers he might be thinking of. (He excitedly introduced Neil Gaiman at the National Book Festival in D.C. a few months back.)
Update: Just a few minutes after posting this, I got word via Just Posted—the Washington Post‘s blog dedicated to new features on its site—that the paper recently launched Michael Dirda’s Reading Room, a threaded bulletin board dedicated to book lovers (and, presumably, Dirda fans).