Anyone who is serious about contemporary fiction knows that Paul Auster is one of our greatest storytellers. He is also a collector, archivist, and cuAnyone who is serious about contemporary fiction knows that Paul Auster is one of our greatest storytellers. He is also a collector, archivist, and curator of stories, as he demonstrated on NPR’s National Story Project and in other endeavors.
As Nathan Glass, his narrator in The Brooklyn Follies, unwinds his tale about family and friends in Brooklyn, Vermont, and North Carolina Auster brings all of his story experience and the resultant knowledge of human nature to bear, allowing him to present vital and believable characters. Comedy and tragedy appear in a realistic and believable fashion: there are no exposed fictional nails in the structure Austen has built.
Those who know Auster as a postmodern writer will find The Brooklyn Follies to be a more straightforward tale than might be expected, as it outlines the complications of an extended family and their friends. And although Brooklyn was already being gentrified in the time period (late ‘90s and early ‘00s) of Auster’s novel, the characters and their milieu are more built around those who live an old-style “friends, family and neighborhood” life than one where high rents and hipsters rule the day.
The characters range from a pre-teen runaway to an antique book dealer with fraudster tendencies, to nieces, nephews and daughters set adrift by personal relationship failures, to a cross-dressing Jamaican, to a crushworthy Latina waitress, to lesbian lovers and finally to Nathan himself, who is turning his life experiences into a series of written notes that make up his Book of Human Folly.
Nathan, who mostly plays the role of uncle and father in the story is given an easy and trustworthy voice. Relating the adventures of his family -- whose sometimes over the top actions reminded me of John Irving’s characters in The World According to Garp and The Hotel New Hampshire -- Auster’s Nathan Glass carried me along in a flow not unlike what one experiences listening to a close friend tell a long, humorous, and pointed anecdote....more
Starting with the novel's opening scene, the frank sexually-oriented passages in Appointment in Samarra were obviously shocking for the times. And theStarting with the novel's opening scene, the frank sexually-oriented passages in Appointment in Samarra were obviously shocking for the times. And the times, the ‘30s (and within the context of lives of well-to-do American country clubbers), are vividly created by John O’Hara, who sources tell us had an agenda in presenting that world in his cynical, yet humorous point of view.
Fran Lebowitz described O’Hara as “the real F. Scott Fitzgerald." I’m not exactly sure what that means (whether dear Fran had her own ax to grind with FSF, or whatever), but AIS is built around the self-destruction of Julian English, Cadillac salesman, who ultimately just gives up on life, drinking himself to oblivion, his journey punctuated by violence and the alienation of all in his sphere.
Like the failure found in The Great Gatsby, the story O’Hara (who felt shut out of the elite world of his day) tells makes JE a victim of that world, and perhaps a martyr to the American ideal of success; also the cause of tragedy (if self-destruction in the form of burning in the crucible of unrequited love of a “rich girl” is a form of self-destruction -- and I think it is) in Gatsby.
Prohibition, the depression, and the fuel that the better-off used to keep their social engine running -- black market booze -- are all featured in O’Hara’s gimlet-eyed portrait. Also, O'Hara's portrait of the American way of courtship and love peel the gilt veneer off the elite, proving that under all the fancy dress and attitude they are somewhat like you and me. But they are rich, so in the final analysis, they must be different....more
Take those old suburban stories of an earlier day -- the kind written by Updike, O’Hara and Cheever -- and run them through the Shaggy Dog Story GenerTake those old suburban stories of an earlier day -- the kind written by Updike, O’Hara and Cheever -- and run them through the Shaggy Dog Story Generator and you’d get something that resembles this hybrid (mutant?), with its main character casting about, his pheromones shooting out Roman candle-like, his guilt instinct set on disable, and his sneaking suspicion he can find himself at the bottom of an empty bottle of booze.
Tom Massery is lucky enough to have his booze work on his libido as an energy drink (though this causes the women in his life to wind up on the unlucky end of things; or worse -- dead), so he spends a lot of time thinking about his next conquest as he hazily surveys the field at that barbaric ceremony known as an American wedding reception.
The more Massery and his two buddies drink the more they resemble the three stooges. Hilarity does, in fact, ensue. Throw in a trepidatious and confused groom, an overheated bride, and mystery man Ambrose, who travels through the story as an apparent “nice guy” -- although Massery picks up bad vibes from him from the get-go -- and you have a mix that keeps things interesting and the story moving along until the semi-surprise denouement. (Somers drops clues like breadcrumbs to lead you to the payoff.)
Also in attendance: Massery’s ex-wives, variously needy and needing to -- in current vernacular -- “tear him a new one,” and you’ve got a comic tale where the author performs a good juggling act, keeping all his (and the main character’s) balls in the air like a pro. Readers who harbor a desire to “smash the patriarchy” should avoid "The Ruiner" like an ex. Others might easily find it a wild and amusingly uncivilized ride. ...more
Please note that there are psychological depths to the characters that will not be examined at any length in this review, though it must be said thatPlease note that there are psychological depths to the characters that will not be examined at any length in this review, though it must be said that the homoerotic subtext in the Ripley and Dickie relationship is well-handled and occasional allusions to the possibility of acting upon it by the author must have been quite scandalous when the novel was published.
I found the amount of time spent in Ripley’s head to become a distraction as his inner monologues became repetitive and here and there cluttered with trivialities that could have been played out in a few sentences instead of spelled out over paragraphs. After awhile I got the impression that Highsmith was so in love with her character that his every thought seemed worthy of presenting to us.
Quaint are Highsmith’s descriptions of exotic locals like Venice, the thrill of plane travel, etc., to the extent that those parts sound as if they’re written for children in an “oh, the places you’ll go!” type of way. I’m sure these descriptions were interesting to the readers of that era who were mostly much less well traveled than those of today. While this gives the story a dated feel, the writing itself is fresh, even while here and there it seems Highsmith channels Hemingway a bit.
If I may make a comparison to the the 1999 film adaptation; the addition of Meredith Logue (Cate Blanchett) to the story provides added tension through her periodic appearances, which, with miserable timing, always almost scuttle Tom Ripley’s plans. And Marge, Dickie’s companion is, in the novel, much less wary of Ripley than the character presented in the film, where from the beginning she seems to harbor a healthy suspicion. In the novel I never got the impression that anyone was “onto” Ripley as I did from the film. (Except for Freddie Miles, so skillfully played by the late Philip Seymour Hoffman as an unctuous boor.)
Does Tom Ripley actually get away with murder? I suppose that is a spoiler I should leave out of this review. But in his efforts to avoid the price for what he does do, the lack of reliable international communications at the time -- terrible phone service, letters that take weeks, etc. -- could let anyone, even someone less clever than Ripley, stage a cover up or change plans to avoid suspicion before the authorities (presented as rather lax lawmen and detectives, not the Amanda Knox justice seekers of today) can anticipate his next move or sniff out his trail.
It is Tom Ripley’s skill with details, along with a good dollop of luck, that will potentially allow him to get away with what he does. But those details may slow things down for those not big fans of cat and mouse stories that progress in a leisurely way. It is also necessary to cast your mind back to get in the mood of the times, when cell phones might have been among the simple tools that would have helped to catch Ripley in his own web. So suspend your disbelief and turn off your cell phone when reading TTMR.
While Ripley plays -- and preys on -- the people in his world, one is struck by how he talks himself out of lack of confidence and loneliness and any guilt. And after all, he has only himself to talk to about his actions; a normal individual would certainly suffer from at least a bit of existential loneliness under that circumstance. But for Ripley there is no one else for him to confide in, nor confess his sins to and he’s basically OK with that. And ultimately -- through his conversations with himself -- by the end of the novel the good Ripley and the bad Ripley become one, a monstrous personality rationalized into existence by a twisted will....more
If you could watch a David Cronenberg remake of It’s a Wonderful Life mashed up with Oh Brother Where Art Thou? and containing some choice Pop-Up VideIf you could watch a David Cronenberg remake of It’s a Wonderful Life mashed up with Oh Brother Where Art Thou? and containing some choice Pop-Up Video trivia (all preceded by a Rip Van Winkle cartoon) you’d get a sense of what Repeat is like.
But it would only be a sense, as the real stuff is Pollack’s own take on the time travel/changing history science fiction trope. The hook in the plotting for me is how the traveler comes and goes. Pollack visits recent cultural history, picking out different aspects for the main character (Brad Cohen, a name amusingly described as sounding as if it came from a random Jewish name generator) to deal with.
Pollack uses this structure like a jazz musician, riffing on different cultural trends, improvising for a while and then returning to the main theme. A good technique, it gets the reader to stick with the story while waiting expectantly for the next riff.
Part of the story deals with an almost painfully authentic presentation of struggling to make it in Hollywood. This is the novel’s framing device as Brad Cohen (after he’s lived his various lives) eventually winds up somewhere that once looked like hell to him, though after his travels seems more like heaven.
Repeat is a good piece of work by Pollack, who even includes himself in a sort of Joseph Mitchell role, conducting a meta interview with the nearly shattered version of Cohen (who just might be a stand-in for Joe Gould, aka Professor Seagull). The emotional toll the Gould profile took on Mitchell was a huge one, and possibly the reason for the end of the New Yorker writer's aborted career. No worries with Pollack, as he has Cohen completely under control -- if not in the interview, at least in Repeat -- and he surely has much more entertaining writing to offer in the coming years.
(Disclosure: Goodreads supplied me with a free copy of Repeat.)...more