Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Book Review: Man in the Dark by Paul Auster

Release date: August 21, 2008
Author links: Goodreads - Official Facebook
Publisher: Henry Holt & Co.
Age group: Adult
Pages: 180
Purchase links: Amazon - Book Depository

Description (from Goodreads):

Man in the Dark is Paul Auster’s brilliant, devastating novel about the many realities we inhabit as wars flame all around us.

Seventy-two-year-old August Brill is recovering from a car accident in his daughter’s house in Vermont. When sleep refuses to come, he lies in bed and tells himself stories, struggling to push back thoughts about things he would prefer to forget—his wife’s recent death and the horrific murder of his granddaughter’s boyfriend, Titus. The retired book critic imagines a parallel world in which America is not at war with Iraq but with itself. In this other America the twin towers did not fall and the 2000 election results led to secession, as state after state pulled away from the union and a bloody civil war ensued. As the night progresses, Brill’s story grows increasingly intense, and what he is so desperately trying to avoid insists on being told. Joined in the early hours by his granddaughter, he gradually opens up to her and recounts the story of his marriage. After she falls asleep, he at last finds the courage to revisit the trauma of Titus’s death.

Passionate and shocking, Man in the Dark is a novel of our moment, a book that forces us to confront the blackness of night even as it celebrates the existence of ordinary joys in a world capable of the most grotesque violence.

I have been aware of Paul Auster for a while now, and though his books have sounded interesting to me, if it wasn't for this American literature reading class I'm taking, I probably would not have picked a Paul Auster novel up at this point in my life. But books and authors come to us in different ways, and it was that reading list for the class I'm taking that introduced me to Auster and sparked in me an interested that will probably end up leading me to other novels by this author.

Rather than giving us a list of particular books we have to read, we were given a list of authors. At my local library, there were several books by Auster in the shelf, but for some reason Man in the Dark interested me the most. Maybe it was the parallel worlds, the idea of America in a new civil war, or the cover. Or maybe it was a mix of those things. Nevertheless, I left the library with Man in the Dark in my tote bag and now that I've read the novel, I am quite pleased with my pick.

August Brill is 72 years old. After a successful career as a writer, two marriages, the death of her wife and a car accident, August is living with her daughter in Vermont. At the start of the book, the house is also occupied by August's granddaughter whose boyfriend Titus was murdered under horrific circumstances. One night sleep does not come to August and he starts to write a story in his mind about an America in a civil war, America where the Twin Towers are still one of the landmarks of New York City, an America that does not fight a war in Iraq. 

Thought the events that August is involved in span only the duration of one sleepless night, the story he imagines takes us to that other America and introduces us to an ordinary man who is given a mission that could end the whole war. As the novel progresses, the two realities get more mixed and eventually August is forced to face his own reality instead of that he has created to escape his sorrows. 

Man in the Dark is quite a short novel, but it is packed with potential discussion topics. Because I do have to write an essay about this book at some point (if I do end up picking it to be one of the five books I have to focus on), I won't go too much into the analysis now. But I do want to say that though this novel is short, it took me quite a while to get through it because it is so filled with wonderful images and thoughts. The way the two realities are brought together is done interestingly. Though I did feel like the story August imagines about America in Civil War ends kind of abruptly, what follows was also extremely engaging and intriguing. 

Auster writer well and imaginatively. As a film student, I love the little film conversations August and his granddaughter, a grieving film student, have about classic films. Auster shows his intelligence, his capability for story telling and his historical knowledge in this novel, and though there are glimpses of hope here and there, in general this novel was quite a devastating read for me. The words Auster writes are powerful and there are a couple of scenes in this novel that will probably haunt me for a while.

Man in the Dark was a great introduction to Auster to me and definitely won't be the last novel I read from him. 

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