Saturday, August 28, 2010

City of Glass

I decided to return to this list of 61 postmodern books to pick out something to read and opted to go with Paul Auster's New York Trilogy. City of Glass is the first book in it and it is a weird yet compelling book.

The book is about author Daniel Quinn, a mystery writer who writes under the name William Wilson and whose main character is named Max Work. Quinn was a poet until his wife and son died and he found he could only write again by being someone else.

One night Quinn receives a phone call asking for Paul Auster of the Paul Auster detective agency. Sorry, wrong number. The caller calls back repeatedly and Quinn finally pretends to be Auster and is asked by the caller for his help.

Quinn goes to the apartment of one Peter Stillman where Stillman lives with his voluptuous older wife. As a child, Stillman was kept in a closet by his father, never being let out. The police finally discover the living situation after over a decade and the Dad is put in jail and Stillman is placed in therapy. His wife is one of his therapists.

After thirteen years of imprisonment, the Dad is being released and Stillman and his wife fear that the Dad will return to kill Stillman. Quinn, as Auster, is hired to follow the Dad and make sure that Stillman stays safe. Quinn discovers that the father was a linguistic professor who had written a book talking about paradise on earth through the building of a new Tower of Babel. Quinn tails the Dad, who has shacked up in a cheap hotel. For two weeks Quinn follows him and takes notes on the daily activities. The Dad wanders, picking up objects here and there. He's obviously not altogether mentally. After a few days, Quinn begins to map the wanderings and finds a hidden message in the pacings.

The message completed, the Dad vanishes from the hotel. Quinn has lost sense of himself through these tailings and panics. He tries to contact the real Paul Auster for help and the Auster he finds is an author, too. Auster has a wife and a son and seems to lead the life Quinn wanted for himself. This causes Quinn to lose his mind some more.

Quinn stakes out the Stillman's apartment for months, sleeping fifteen minutes an hour and barely eating. Finally, out of money, he contacts the real Auster again, where he finds that Stillman's Dad killed himself soon after Quinn had met Auster. Quinn returns to Stillman's apartment where we find another story entirely involving Auster and a mysterious narrator.

The plot is mysterious but unrewarding. The characters aren't particularly interesting. Nonetheless, the story is really compelling. I could not put it down once I started it. I was shocked and aghast at the number of typos in the book. At least fifteen misspelled words scattered throughout. These were legitimate typos, not the result of inane babblings from deranged characters.

This is the third Auster book I've read. I like it better than Travels in the Scriptorium but not near as much as The Book of Illusions. I'm currently reading another book on the postmodern list and then will be reading The Book Thief after which I think I will read the second book of the New York Trilogy.

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