Shock to the System

Paul Auster, whose Man in the Dark was one of my favorite novels of last year (it’s now in paperback), is featured in a new documentary titled Act of God, about people who were struck by lightning. That’s familiar territory for Auster; in his 2002 nonfiction collection, The Red Notebook, he wrote about an incident in summer camp when he was 14 where the boy standing next to him was struck dead. Acts of God director Jennifer Baichwal tells the CBC that the writer played a critical role in the theme of the documentary, because “his whole body of work is preoccupied with coincidence and meaning and chance.” (Apparently Michael Ondaatje tipped her off.)

Indeed, as he told the New York Times in 2006, the incident inspired his obsession with chance incidents:

“Hundreds of things made me feel that way,” he said, “but probably the pivotal moment was when I was 14 and at summer camp” in upstate New York.

“We went out on a hike and we got caught in an electrical storm.” He and another boy found themselves crawling underneath a barbed-wire fence when a lightning bolt struck, electrocuting the boy instantly.

“My head,” Mr. Auster, now 58, recalled, “was inches from his feet.”

He expands on that soberly in the trailer to the film:

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