SUNSET PARK by Paul Auster

Book Quote:

“He wonders if it is worth hoping for a future when there is no future, and from now on, he tells himself, he will stop hoping for anything and live only for now, this moment, this passing moment, the now that is here and then not here, the now that is gone forever.”

Book Review:

Review by Jill Shtulman  (NOV 15, 2010)

Paul Auster is one of my favorite writers; he paints his characters with taut, finely detailed, yet propulsive brush strokes. And in Sunset Park, he does not disappoint.

This novel is less postmodern than his recent book Invisible. It focuses on debris: physical debris from trashed-out foreclosed homes in Florida that Miles Heller, a Brown University dropout, rescues through his camera lens. And mental debris that Miles wrestles with after a spontaneous action on his part results in an accidental death, causing him to flee from his New York family and live in self-imposed exile down south. A chance encounter with a high school student, Cuban-American Pilar Sanchez, while reading The Great Gatsby brings fleeting connection into his life for a few happy months. But Pilar is underage and he is soon forced to flee back north to avoid her jaded older sister’s charges that could lead to jail time.

As a result of his northbound trek, Miles moves in with the other characters that populate this book: four flat-broke twentysomethings who are struggling with issues of personal identity and past failures. Together, they illegally squat in an abandoned house in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park, openly evading the government and awaiting the day when eviction will become a reality. Each has placed his or her life on hold while forestalling a crucial decision. In Miles case, he is awaiting the right time to connect again with his father Morris, an independent publisher who is fighting the dissolution of both his business and marriage and has never quite given up that his son will eventually find his way back home.

The fractured narrative, told sequentially in the third-person, weaves together a number of elements: the economic recession and ensuring foreclosure crisis, baseball trivia including Jack Lohrke (“Lucky”) who cheated death repeatedly until the very end, William Wyler’s 1946 coming-home classic The Best Years of Our Lives, the demise of the literary publishing houses, To Kill A Mockingbird, and the Hospital of Broken Things, which repairs artifacts of a world that once was. This seemingly haphazard assortment is not quite so haphazard on second glance: all are centered on one’s ability to out-cheat fate and assume control of one’s own destiny…or not. The themes that Auster has explored in the past – chance encounters, tragic flaws and past events, art and soltitude, rebellion and penance – are all here again.

James Wood, the esteemed New Yorker critic, famously called Auster’s prose “comfortingly artificial.” With the exception of a few passages that I found to be inorganically graphic, I don’t agree. As these disparate elements come together at the end; the power took my breath away in ways that no artificial construct ever could.

In essence, Auster is asking: “Is luck random or is it within our control? How much responsibility can we take for occurrences? What does self-forgiveness entail? Is it worth hoping for a future when there may be no future? Should we live for the passing moment or take a bigger picture into consideration? These questions – perfectly posed for today’s tough economic times and daunting crises — will have you ruminating long after you read the last pages.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-3-5from 98 readers
PUBLISHER: Henry Holt and Co. (November 9, 2010)
REVIEWER: Jill I. Shtulman
EXTRAS: Excerpt
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Movies from Books:

  • The Music of Chance (2003)
  • In the Country of Last Things (2007)

November 15, 2010 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: Contemporary, Florida, New York City

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