Once again, I am taking a page from another blog rather than review. I'm immersed in reading short stories right now - the fantastic final selected works of E. L. Doctorow of special note - and Refugees, a new collection by the amazing Viet Nguyen, among others, so I will not have a novel to review for a while, but there are oh so many of the past worth revisiting, particularly those of political import.
Pulitzer Prize Winner Viet Nguyen
I've not read all of these. And I've only just read The Sympathizer, which is a hard read, dense and brilliant and with a protagonist difficult to relate to, but certainly worthy of the Pulitzer. I will be reading those on the list I've not read because this is the time to revisit freedom in the words and stories of great novelists.
Of special note is James Baldwin, whose poetry I've been rereading because of the amazing new documentary, I am Not Your Negro, a painful, profoundly troubling reminder that America has a shameful past that keep returning to haunt us. See the film, read his work, check in with your own racial pulse and consider what sort of world you want to live in. And when the Facebook posts and Twitter feed and broadcast news is just too hard to bear, read, read, read...
A great selection of important political books not 1984. Cheers.
I have been reading Paul Auster
for 30+ years. He fascinates with his meditative, metaphysical view of
humanity. He is also one of the great fiction craftsmen – never an extraneous
word. Rich descriptive language. And some of the quirkiest characters and plot
lines you will ever encounter. Some have called him the abstract expressionist
of the written word. Perhaps a Cubist.
In this masterpiece, and I
don’t use the term loosely, Dickens meets Tolstoy meets Philip Roth. The intricate
eccentric characterizations you find in Dickens, the grand scope of history and
political intrigue in Tolstoy, and the neurotic loves and losses of the great
Philip Roth, and all fall into the universal Homeric journey. Seriously
fascinating, I was riveted.
If you haven’t read Auster, start
with Moon Palace or The Music of Chance. I cherish my signed
hardcover edition of New York Stories,
which is what first put him on the map. His substantial collection – both
fiction and memoir – tends to revolve around a set of themes. Coincidence
versus destiny. The loss of a parent or important loved one. The inability to
live up to expectations. And, the every present confluence of political history
with personal trajectories.
In this very expansive novel –
all 862 pages of it – we find all his themes expounded to the full and a cast
of characters you will not soon forget. Michael Dirda, writing about Auster in the Washington Post years ago, said, "His plots - drawing on elements from suspense stories, existential recit and autobiography - keep readers during the pages, but sometimes end by leaving them uncertain what they've just been through."
Imagine this: One child born in
1947 [the same year Auster was born] but four lives lived, concurrently. Not a
decision tree – the fork in the road approach – rather the unpredictable
happenstance that alters destiny, and in this case, usually what happens to the parents. Thus, an examination of nature vs
nurture. The life of this endearing boy, Archie Ferguson, whom we follow
through his 21st year, plays out in different ways, despite the same DNA and the
same starting line.
Auster brilliantly makes it
possible for the reader to follow along by posting chapters of each boy’s life
during the same time period, and marketing them 1.1, 1.2, 1.3, 1.4, etc. And he
also makes sure to drop reminders into the text so you know which version you
are with. However, I recommend you read chapters in their entirety. I picked up
one in the middle and had to go back to the beginning to be reminded which life
I was in.
Auster is also often concerned
with young men coming of age, trying to navigate the strange worlds of love and
sex and an elusive sense of identity. I marked likely a hundred different
passages to quote, but here’s just one that makes the point. Oh, and did I
mention the novel also includes a love story with each of the Archie’s enamored
in some way with one girl.
there was Ferguson after Amy flew off to Madison, Wisconsin, a senior in high
school with his whole life in front of him, as he was informed by his teachers,
his relatives, and every adult he crossed paths with, but he had just lost the
love of his life, and the word future had been erased from every dictionary in
“4 3 2 1” has just published. A
great big brilliant novel to cozy up with on these wet wintry nights.