The Brooklyn Follies by Paul Auster (Henry Holt / H.B. Fenn), 320 pages $31.95 cloth. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Pretend you have five months to live, and start writing.
That's what an accomplished - and prolific - writer said to me when I complained that I didn't have a story for a new play.
That premise is exactly the one Paul Auster uses in his latest fiction, The Brooklyn Follies.
Insurance agent Nathan Glass has been diagnosed with lung cancer. Hopelessly alienated from all of his family and, not surprisingly, his work, he moves to Brooklyn to die.
But then he meets so many soulful characters that he's motivated to do more than just waste away.
He runs into his nephew Tom, who's abandoned academia to work in a second-hand book store. The store is owned by Harry, a larger-than-life sometimes scam artist who's hoping he can convince someone that the document he's holding is really the first page of The Scarlet Letter hand-written by the author himself.
Also on hand are Nathan's nine-year-old niece, who's run away to his house and, as an act of protest, refuses to speak; a hot waitress whom Nathan can't resist and who gets him into deep trouble; drag queens; and a few mobsters.
Nathan thinks his last living act will be the writing of what he calls The Book Of Human Folly, which is supposed to document every crazy, dumb and embarrassing thing he's done in his lifetime. But some things you just can't predict.
The Brooklyn Follies is full of more pleasures than you'd expect from a story about a man who's been given a death sentence. In Auster's hands, Brooklyn is a particularly appealing setting, full of people and buildings that signify a diverse New York but without the sheen of Manhattan. More important to the story, Auster has an unusual ability to be both ridiculous and profound.