Monday, December 6, 2010

Sunset Park

I'm not Paul Auster's biggest fan, even though I feel like I should be. (Bizarre postmodern storytelling, New York settings, mysteries galore--what's not to like? Surprisingly, there's something, though I can't put my finger on exactly what.) So I was surprised by how much I enjoyed his latest, Sunset Park, after its name, and setting, drew me to pick it up despite my reservations.

Sunset Park's not an uplifting book, to put it mildly, but I still found it compelling. Maybe because I come from a similar enough background to New-York-born Miles, the most-main character (each of the characters has a lengthy section devoted to him or her, but it's Miles who pulls them all together) that I can sympathize with him. But his life situation is also so unusual--he's run off to Florida to hide from a tragic accident, works for a company that cleans out the homes of evicted people, and eventually returns to New York to squat in a house in Sunset Park--that it held my interest.

I think above all Auster is good at providing a compelling senses of character and place. The story isn't really driven by external events, except in its final, potentially devastating, moments; instead, it's about what happens when characters take the time to figure out themselves and their relationships to their families, friends, and lovers. And, of course, to their places--blighted Sunset Park (surely not quite as sinister in real life as Auster makes it out to be here), the strange no-man's-land of Florida for a New Yorker, the remembered opulent Manhattan past. I felt myself entering the strange wintry twilight of Sunset Park, worrying along with the characters about guilt, redemption, looking for a meaningful job, and repairing family relations. I won't say more here--it's a busy week--except to recommend this book if you want to immerse yourself in the richly imagined lives of others.

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