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The Brooklyn Follies


The Brooklyn Follies

When I picked up Paul Auster's THE BROOKLYN FOLLIES, I was prepared
to be thoroughly befuddled within the first 50 pages or so.

Several years ago a friend convinced me to read Auster's
existential detective series from the mid-'80s collectively known
as THE NEW YORK TRILOGY. While the trilogy was compelling, it was
also confusing, often seeming like a lengthy in-joke to which the
reader (or more precisely, this reader) wasn't privy.

Twenty years after penning THE NEW YORK TRILOGY (and with nine
additional novels to his credit), Auster has delivered a remarkably
straightforward, fast-reading narrative that any reader (again, to
be clear, this reader) can follow. He still enjoys playing
with characters' names, he's still interested in questions of
coincidence, and he still likes to dabble in unconventional forms.
But the world of THE BROOKLYN FOLLIES is explicitly our world
rather than the philosophical construct of his earlier work.

Nathan Glass, a divorced, retired insurance salesman convinced he
is going to die, returns to Brooklyn 56 years after he and his
parents moved away when Glass was three. He narrates the story of
his reunion with his nephew, Tom Wood, and the adventures that

Though the strands of the plot are eventually woven together fairly
tightly, there are too many threads to give a satisfactory plot
synopsis. At the book's heart, however, is the tension between
Glass's cynicism about the world --- revealed in his musings on the
pratfalls and foibles of mankind --- and his fierce loyalty to
those closest to him. The cynic looking for a quiet place to die
instead finds himself coming to the aid of several supporting
characters, including his mysteriously silent runaway great-niece,
a flamboyant bookseller with a gift for deceiving himself as well
as others, and his lovelorn nephew.

Throughout the novel, Brooklyn serves as a sort of ideal community
for Auster. Danger and sadness seem to loom outside the confines of
the borough and occasionally breach the community, but the
neighborhood offers solace to nearly all of the book's

The adventures of Glass and his compatriots --- which include
quests for love, redemption and justice --- are occasionally
predictable, but often offer surprises. One senses that Auster
crafted both kinds of scenarios to reflect a world in which things
occasionally turn out just the way we expect, but often

That theme is present in the micro world of Glass's personal
experiences as well as in the macro world of the real-life events
against which the novel is set. The story begins in the months
leading up to the Bush/Gore election of 2000 and evokes the
uncertainty of that contest and its aftermath. And as the story
hurtles forward, another date starts to loom on the horizon. To
provide details of Auster's handling of that tragic day would be to
strip the moment of its power and beauty. It is, perhaps, enough to
say that THE BROOKLYN FOLLIES provides a clear-eyed perspective on
the randomness --- both good and ill --- that seems to make up our


Reviewed by Rob Cline ( on December 23, 2010

The Brooklyn Follies
by Paul Auster

  • Publication Date: October 17, 2006
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Picador
  • ISBN-10: 0312426232
  • ISBN-13: 9780312426231