Brooklyn Follies, Paul Auster’s strangely compelling new book, takes the Auster canon into a new direction and I honestly don’t know what to make of it. “Nathan Glass has come to Brooklyn to die. This is only the latest in a long line of follies.” At least that is what the back of the book promises. Even the first line of the novel begins with Nathan Glass contemplating his death: “I was looking for a quiet place to die.” Glass, a lung cancer patient in his late fifties, has given up on life, but spends most of the novel discovering its joys as though he hadn’t really lived before. Auster avoids treacly homily, mostly through the protagonist’s rueful sense of humor.
The Brooklyn Follies is totally unlike any other Auster work I’ve read: warm, moving, and sympathetic to its characters. Even the structure, featuring the protagonist’s memoirs as a book within a book, is barely postmodern at all. Nathan Glass runs into his nephew Tom behind the counter of a local bookstore. Tom had fallen into a funk in the past few years. And his sister Rory only appears from time to time, usually when she is in trouble. The book’s plot moves along when Rory’s daughter Lucy shows up unannounced on Tom’s doorstep one day. Luckily, Auster is a good enough writer to prevent this from feeling like a Nicholas Sparks novel.
Some of the time, I wasn’t sure if I even liked the book, but I found it compelling. The characters were interesting enough that I wanted to see how things would turn out for them. Besides, it was an Auster novel, so I kept expecting some sort of unsettling turn of events. Instead, the book proceeded more or less neatly toward a well-structured and satisfying end. It may not be Auster’s usual style, but it’s still quite good.