Fathers and Sons

My review of Paul Auster‘s new novel, Sunset Park, is up at the Barnes & Noble Review. I’ve seen a few articles and comments about the book that suggest the novel is a kind of commentary on the foreclosure crisis, which seems sensible enough: The book’s main character, Miles, begins the novel “trashing out” abandoned homes in Florida and later moves into a squat in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park neighborhood. Auster’s books have a way of containing multitudes, so it’s a fair way to read the novel. But Auster ultimately doesn’t have as much to say about the housing crisis as he does about the meaning of “home.” As I was reading Sunset Park, I kept thinking that the book didn’t resonate so much with his recent novels like as they do with his autobiographical writing—where, much as in Sunset Park, he’s trying to sort his disconnection from his father, and what it means to be part of a family when that disconnection persists. So:

It’s not unusual for Auster to litter his novels with personal detail, of course. But Sunset Park isn’t another self-referential puzzle: its power derives from how intensely its characters look into themselves and their pasts—worriedly, regretfully—in a manner that evokes the heartfelt, introspective tone of Auster’s memoirs. In Solitude, Hand to Mouth, and The Red Notebook he addressed matters of maturity and family with a directness that rarely emerges in his fiction, where he’s done his moral workouts in the context of steely Pomo eccentricities: the noirish riffing of The New York Trilogy, the dog’s-eye-view of Timbuktu, the absurdist Travels in the Scriptorium, the stories-within-stories of Oracle Night and last year’s Invisible. Sunset Park isn’t “autobiographical” so much as it’s borne of the same confessional spirit Auster has brought to his nonfiction.

Reviews of the novel generally appear mixed—if not downright dismissive in England. But I think Auster has written three of his best novels in the past few years (Man in the Dark, Invisible, and Sunset Park), and the new one reveals a depth of emotion that Auster hasn’t often allowed himself.

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