"I am alone in the dark, turning the world around in my head as
I struggle through another bout of insomnia, another white night in
the great American wildnerness." These are the thoughts of
72-year-old August Brill, tossing and turning as he spends another
sleepless night trying --- and ultimately failing --- to keep his
mind from wandering through the troubling, sometimes heartbreaking
events of his past.
Brill, a consummate writer and book critic, focuses his mind
through narrative --- in this case a compelling story of an
alternate United States, one that split apart from our current
reality after the 2000 Presidential election. In that reality,
so-called Blue States seceded from the Federalist states (and their
president, George W. Bush) after that contentious election. Civil
war erupts, and although the September 11th attacks and the
subsequent wars on Afghanistan and Iraq never happened, the United
States and its people are still torn apart by war.
The protagonist of Brill's story is a man named Owen Brick, who has
been snatched out of our universe into that one for a special
mission: to assassinate the person who, by creating this story in
the first place, created the nightmarish reality. In other words,
he's out for August Brill's blood.
This overlapping story-within-a-story is compelling --- for readers
and for Brill himself. But, it turns out, not compelling enough to
distract Brill entirely from the tragedies --- small and large,
past and present --- that have characterized his own life. He is
laid up at his daughter Miriam's home in Vermont following a
serious car crash. His granddaughter, 23-year-old Katya, has also
sought refuge at her mother's home following the death of her
long-time boyfriend, Titus.
August's mind wanders through the story of his own marriage to,
divorce from and reunion with his late wife Sonia, and through the
heartbreaking, more recent events in Miriam's and Katya's lives.
The themes of war, betrayal and loss are woven through all these
narratives --- as well as through Brill's fantastical fictional
narrative --- and culminate in a cathartic exchange between Brill
Paul Auster's aficionados will find many echoes of his previous
works here: a faceless authority who must be obeyed, a series of
nested stories, an at-times disquieting disorientation and, of
course, his achingly beautiful, elegantly economical prose. But
although MAN IN THE DARK is, like some of Auster's more
inaccessible writings, a novel of ideas, it is also compulsively
readable and immediately relevant for all readers. Placing immense
themes about the wars humans wage on both national and personal
levels in a contemporary context, Auster posits his latest book at
the intersection of politics and story. The result is a novel that
--- like an indelible image from a great film or painting --- will
remain with readers for years to come.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on January 6, 2011
Man in the Dark