Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Book Review: Mr. Vertigo

Paul Auster must be one of the best living American novelists. America definitely needs something like the Booker Prize to recognize fine fiction writing, and I have no doubt that Paul Auster would be the recipient of the award every three or four years. If you haven't read any of his writing, go to right now and buy one of his works. You won't regret almost any choice you make.
Much of Auster's work has involved stories that take place in New York, and I am trying to remember if any took place as far back as 85 years ago, and don't think that any I have read were so far in the past. I wouldn't say that this work is a break for Auster, it is fully as well-told as his other works, and has a deft narrative full of humanity. Humanity is a good word, yes...That and chance.
All of Auster's novels narratives are driven, to some degree, by chance. Chance, as in 'this happened for a reason, and though it might not be visible in this one instance, the guiding hand of some deity must be involved, because we are not talking about random chance but chance as exercised by an organised and all-seeing God.' That chance.
In this work, Auster's narrative is the first-person narrative of Walt, a presumably deceased man by the time you read the story, who tells an incredible life story starting in the 1920's. There is not really any narrative fancy stuff here, just an old guy telling the story of what brought him to where he now is. Straight line, mostly, in very much the way that someone who was asked to sit down and tell their life story would probably do it.
The power of this work is in the story. Walt's straightfoward telling of how as a boy he learned to fly--yes, fly!--and how that shaped the rest of his life is riveting, and utterly believable as told. As a story, it flys.
Some of Auster's work, most especially for me, Music of Chance, are somewhat less deft in the other story that they are telling, the Message. This work is definitely less allegoric than Music of Chance, which is good. To some degree, though, the story of a man who learns to fly, and then learns not to, is allegoric in nature. We are not talking The Pilgrims Progress allegory, but Auster is obviously of a mind to tell more of a story than the actual story. In Mr. Vertigo, Auster's tendency displayed in Music of Chance to overplay this, his irrepressible urge to not only tell the front story, but nearly explicitly tell you the meaning as well, is thankfully repressed. So, he gets the meaning in without having to go to any great lengths or much awkwardness to pound the reader over the head with it. The meaning comes out of the story. As it should.
I give this work a four smiley rating. The only reason it doesn't get a five is that I am picky, as well as stingy, and don't think there would be much point in handing out a five unless it was the best book I had ever, up until that point, read. It isn't, but it is a damned good one, and I full-heartedly reccomend it. ☻☻☻☻☺


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