MAN IN THE DARK by Paul Auster (Henry Holt), 192 pages, $26 cloth. Rating: NNNN
Paul Auster's new novel ruminates on the fault lines and schisms within a marriage, a family and the landscape of post-9/11 America.
August Brill is a widower and man of letters nursing a shattered leg while he helps his granddaughter get over the savage murder of her husband in Iraq. Sequestered in her Virginia farmhouse, they numb themselves by watching movies all day.
At night the elderly Brill, suffering from insomnia, invents stories about a young man named Owen Brick, recruited to serve in an alternate America where a second civil war has broken out over the 2000 election results. Brick, however, soon takes on a solid reality of his own that threatens to unhinge his creator.
This is the kind of reality-bending flourish we've come to accept and love from Auster. Still, he's much more concerned with the mysteries of the human heart and mind than he is with metaphysics.
The story of Owen Brick not only taps Auster's outrage over what has been happening politically in America over the last decade, but it also brings us closer to the essence of Brill. Auster's longing for different political realities is echoed in Brill's longing for other outcomes, other women; eventually, he winds up recounting to his granddaughter the story of his marriage.
The many disparate narrative threads in the novel's beginning are distilled down to this, a love story passed from one generation to the next.
Man In The Dark is a labyrinthine journey through the memories, experiences and flights of imagination of its hero. Worlds are born out of stories, Auster is telling us, and stories are born out of suffering and experience.
What better source of narrative than a sleepless old man full of regret?