Beni Morse's Reviews > Sunset Park

Sunset Park by Paul Auster
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's review
Jun 22, 2011

really liked it
Read in June, 2011

"His father wasn't one of those warmhearted buddy fathers who thought his son should be his best pal, he was simply a man who felt responsible for his wife and children, a quiet, even tempered man...."

Sunset Park’s main character is Miles Heller, who abandons his arty and successful New York family and ‘disappears’ to deal with his grief and guilt. He believes he was the cause of the death of his stepbrother in a car accident. Intertextuality kicks in here - The Great Gatsby has a car accident, when Daisy kills Myrtle. As the novel proceeds, the Gatsby resonances continue. As Miles runs from bum job to bum job he meets a much younger girl in a park – they’re both reading The Great Gatsby. The novels main plot strand is about how this relationship with the girl helps him gain redemption and renew the relationship with his estranged father.
Another layer of references clusters around the film The Best Years of Our Lives, which I have never seen – it’s about a group of soldiers returning to their homes after the Second World War. One of the characters is studying it for her PhD and the film’s portrayal of ex-soldiers attempting to re-establish father son relationships frames Miles’ story.
The reviews gave Sunset Park a panning – they thought the coincidences were over-played, some of the prose is no better than workmanlike, that it is too slight to deal with any of the characters or themes in enough depth, or that he [Auster] is too old to portray the younger characters convincingly.
But I liked it. It is a novel about the difficulty of finding redemption in a world defined by loss. There are moments of intensity, beauty even. Although it may be slight, Auster can bring to life a character within very little space and the other characters lives and troubles these are fleeting, bright flashes, like goldfish in a murky pond. It’s a great book about father-son relationships, how they bond through talking sport (the book is peppered with baseball stories) because sport is a ‘wholly neutral subject, safe ground as it were...’.
I also liked the way it takes the economic crisis [2008-present] as background and deals as it unfolds with sub-prime mortgage crisis; the effects of the crisis not just on the poor but on the nation’s psyche; the shabby treatment of part-time university teachers; and the impact of the crisis on publishing.
So to hell with the reviews. Read it anyway. As Miles’ publisher father says [of himself]: “No doubt you are a sentimental old fool a man out of step with the times, but you enjoy swimming against the current.....”
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