Monday, September 27, 2010

Sunset Park by Paul Auster

Sunset Park

In Sunset Park the characters are drawn with the swift, sure strokes of a master and are immediately accessible, and likeable. As it happens, I began reading this shortly after I'd begun Franzen's Freedom, on which I was struggling to concentrate. I was struck by the similarities and differences between the beginning of this book and Franzen's. Franzen's novel seemed an overstuffed suitcase, the contents of which we pick up in wonder and put back, curious how these vignettes will become relevant in the long course of the story. Auster's story is more like a briefcase of a story, each item within it immediately obvious in its usefulness to us, the readers. The writing is spare, elegant, propulsive.

The novels are similar in that they tell us of an American family, and a young person becomes an adult as we read. The descriptors echo, one book with another, but I had trouble grabbing hold of Franzen's, while Auster's grabbed ME and kept me up late into the night. Books on fiction writing often say we should "show" and not "tell," but strangely, I felt Franzen was showing and Auster was telling, which is one reason why Franzen's was longer, and more digressive. There seemed nothing extra in Auster's. Franzen's is simply a different style, and yields similar truths about the human condition.

If I had one regret with Sunset Park, it is that we did not see more of Pilar, who, while the youngest person in the story, in the end was the most adult. She seemed extraordinary, and we wanted to see more of the woman who could make grown men laugh, cry, sigh, and lie.

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