Man in the Dark: A Novel Hardcover – Aug 19 2008
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"Probably Auster’s best novel."—Kirkus, starred review
"Astute and mesmerizing."—Booklist, starred review
"This best-selling author with a cult following of literati finally offers one to please both fan bases."—Library Journal, starred review
"This is perhaps Auster’s best book. But maybe that’s an unfair description. Man In The Dark is so unlike anything Auster has ever written that it doesn’t make sense to compare it with his earlier work. Sure, you can recognize the author of ‘Oracle Night’ and ‘Brooklyn Follies.’ But it’s as if that gentle mind has been joined by the ghost of Kurt Vonnegut, the adamant pacifist, author of ‘Slaughterhouse Five’ and creator of Billy Pilgrim, a prisoner of war who became ‘unstuck in time.’ Here we have multiple worlds and three generations, also unstuck in time. But like Vonnegut’s classic anti-war novel, Auster’s book leaves one with a depth of feeling much larger than might be expected from such a small and concise work of art."—Stephen Elliott, San Francisco Chronicle
"In one thread, an ailing 72-year-old named Brill convalesces in Vermont; in the parallel and more eventful thread, a man named Brick wakes up in a dangerous dream—America currently in the middle of a 21st-century civil war. Both plots are propulsive. . . . [Auster is] a master of voice, an avuncular confidence man who can spin dark stories out of air."—Entertainment Weekly
"[Auster’s] magic has never flourished more fully than it does in Man In The Dark. . . . The novel delivers intense reading pleasure from start to finish."—Chauncey Mabe, Orlando Sentinel
"Vivid and arresting. . . . a novel that manages, admirably, to be both apocalyptic and tender. . . . The universe conceived by Auster is a world worth entering. And all that Brill struggles to forget in the pages of Man In The Dark translates into a book that deserves to be well remembered."—St. Louis Post-Dispatch
"Auster is after something entirely different, in this haunting and beautifully crafted work, than speculative fiction. . . . This superb small novel isn’t, despite initial impressions, about war or politics at all. It is about, in the face of guilt and horror, choosing whether to die and how, if that is the choice, to live. It is, at heart, about the stratagems that we, but in particular our best novelists, devise as a means of keeping us going in the face of the ‘pitiless dark’ that will swallow us all."—Popmatters.com
"Man In The Dark . . . crashes onto shore with a great burst. It suddenly adds up, and what it adds up to can leave you sleepless."—The Buffalo News
"[A] fascinating new novel. . . . As Auster reminds us, often the worst wars are those fought in one’s own mind."—MSNBC.com
"Paul Auster’s twisty Man In The Dark concerns an alternate universe where two planes never toppled the World Trade Center. But Bush is still president, and a civil war rages in America. . . . Takes us closer to understanding the emotional wreckage [of 9/11]."—GQ
"The real magician here is Auster. Our new century so far has been as bleak and troubled as Brill’s last years. This little dream of a novel invests it with something newly precious. Hope riffles the pages of this beautiful, heartbreaking book."—Paste
"No writer is working harder than Auster to give America an existential literature to call its own, and Brill has a ruminative and slightly despairing mood that recalls Camus’ antiheros. Yet Man In The Dark isn’t a headlong leap into emptiness . . . Auster treats the theme of isolation straightforwardly, studying the emotional costs of war through Brill’s own vivid memories and his family’s own recent heartbreak. In the process, he arrives at the provocative notion that war stories and love stories aren’t as different as we might like to think."—Washington City Paper
About the Author
Paul Auster is the bestselling author of Travels in the Scriptorium, The Brooklyn Follies, and Oracle Night. I Thought My Father Was God, the NPR National Story Project anthology, which he edited, was also a national bestseller. His work has been translated into thirty languages. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.
Top Customer Reviews
In Man in the Dark 72-year-old bedridden, broken, insomniac journalist and book critic August Brill (August shortened becomes Augie, heard that before eh?) conjures up in his head an alternative universe in which the US is undergoing state-by-state secession and civil war, in order to not think/deal with the death of his wife (also ex-wife and then reunited lover), his daughter's divorce and the death of his granddaughter's boyfriend Titus, in a particularly terrible 21st century fashion.
The protagonist in Brill's story in his head is one Owen Brick, a man given a most difficult task, find the storyteller and dispatch him in order to end the civil war in the alternate not so United States. Of course this notion of messing with time and alternate states of the same world has been explored before by many fine science fiction writers. Everyone wants to go back and kill Hitler or some other terrible despot. In Auster's hand the reader as always is propelled along and desperately want to see what happens. How can an invented character, kill the fictional character that created him, without ending the story on some irrational note.
I would have liked to see more of Owen Brick in this book. Auster had me hooked, than I was unhooked. It's as if that big one you always wanted got away at the last moment.Read more ›
While I don't think this is Auster's best novel, I did find it entertaining all the same. Auster does a good job of drafting up an alternate reality where the events of September 11th never took place and instead something else just as tragic took place. He also does a good job of drawing in the actual events taking place in Iraqwith one of the lesser characters in the book.
So what did I like about the book? I liked the writing style. Auster's tell-tale method of character delivery adn development is still there. Fans of The New York Trilogy will undoubtedly find some parallels between how the characters are described in that novelwith how they are described here. And of course the book is set in New York which I always get a kick out of.
So what didn't I like about it? Well I thought the book was too political. What makes Auster, in my opinion, a great novelist is his ability to rise above politics. But by sinking in to the political arena, he cheapens his art. Auster should have been able to avoid it. There are plenty of other topics to write about.
If you're an Auster fan, you will likely read this book. If you're looking for your first introduction to the man though, try checking out the Booklyn Follies or Leviathan instead.
At 72 years of age Brill finds himself in his daughter's Vermont home where he is trying to recover from an automobile accident. Sleep eludes him as he recalls past tragedies - the death of his wife, the desertion of his daughter's husband, the death in Iraq of Titus, his granddaughter's fiancé. A retired book critic Brill has a fertile imagination, and sees in his mind's eye quite a different America, and it is a haunting scene - a place where there has not been a terrorist attack, our country is not at war save for within itself when New York and 16 other states secede from the Union.
He flagellates himself for these thoughts, saying, "Why am I doing this? Why do I persist in traveling down these old, tired paths; why this compulsion to pick at old wounds and make myself bleed again?"
Auster, as is his wont, challenges us to consider the world in which we live. He underscores the atrocities of war by relating the horrible death of Titus that is posted on the Internet and seen by Brill and his granddaughter.
Brilliant, shocking? Yes. It is also unforgettable, undeniably the work of one of the most creative minds of our generation.
Auster's narration of his work brings an added depth to the story. For this listener there is a greater understanding of the author's intention when the inflections, phrasings, and emphases are his own.
- Gail Cooke
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
This imagined world exists only in the mind of August Brill, an elderly man (in the real world) lying in bed recovering from an accident that has left him immobile. There's an interesting recursive aspect to the alternate America scenario (which I won't elaborate on here for fear of giving away the plot) that adds a further surreal dimension to the story. Brill's imaginary excursions into this parallel world are interspersed with comparatively mundane real world scenes that begin to paint a picture of his views, his life and his family.
The parallel reality aspect of the story ends about two thirds of the way through the book, which is a shame because I found the whole concept quite fascinating and very entertaining. Most of the rest of the book consists of a discussion between Brill and his granddaughter Katya in which Brill recounts the story of his marriage and Katya grapples with guilt over the death in Iraq of her former boyfriend who was kidnapped and murdered by terrorists.
For me, America's military involvement in Iraq is the major theme of the book. In Brill's alternate reality, the Twin Towers remain standing and America does not go to war in Iraq. Instead, it self-destructs. In the real world, American soldiers die fighting and others (like Katya's boyfriend) die simply because they're Americans in the wrong place at the wrong time. The implication seems to be that America's interventionist foreign policy is an alternative to the complete breakdown of national unity; that war somehow holds the nation together, albeit tenuously. I don't think Auster is advocating the policy, but rather asking whether it's really worth it even if the alternative is confronting some pretty unpleasant realities at home.
Man in the Dark is Auster's most political book to date, but it's not ponderous or sanctimonious. It's fundamentally a story about a man and his family. The politics kind of lurks in the background. It's a book that needs to be read more than once, I think (and it's short enough for that not to be a burden). I enjoyed it a lot. It's provocative and imaginative, as good literature should be.
Man in the Dark centers on August Brill, a 72-year-old ex-critic who has a shattered leg, from a car accident, and a shattered life, from, well, living life. He's recovering in the Vermont home of his daughter and granddaugher who themselves are both suffering from emotional downturns. To get through the painful, insomniac nights, Brill imagines a fictional storyline in which the protagonist, Owen Brick (such an Auster name), is torn from his life in Queens to an alternate history of America where the so-called Blue States are at war with the so-called Red states, a war that began after the 2000 election; and in this world the Twin Towers where never attacked. Foolish? Of course. However, this alter-fiction provides most of the intrigue and the best writing in the book (I won't spoil the plot), but it's cut off abruptly, right when it would have gotten very interesting, at a point when a writer like Borges (to whom Auster is much in debt here) would take it to a new level. But during the daylight hours Brill spends his time watching old movies with his granddaughter and getting sentimental about his past, and it's like reading a script from a Hallmark Sunday Night movie ... "Was grandma pretty?", etc. ... You get the picture. And to make it worse these dialogues (Auster's never had this much dialogue in one of his novels) are written in an almost ossified prose.
The novel is, thankfully, short, and I read it in two sittings; and I felt nothing but disappointment when I finished.
I hope the old Paul Auster - the Auster of Moon Palace, the NY3 and the Music of Chance - returns next time; he is sorely missed by this reader.
Each person in the novel is "in the dark," searching for identity and the meaning of life and love, but each is also trying to reconcile his/her present life with the accidents of his own history. The death of August's wife, and his own accident, have left him dependent on Miriam. Miriam's abandonment by her husband has left her vulnerable and responsible for the household, and Katya, his granddaughter, is almost paralyzed from the death of her lover, feeling that she did not love him enough. All feel like failures.
This absurdist novel gains excitement--and its main plot--each night when August, sleepless, invents characters living different kinds of lives in an alternative reality--one so close to our own reality that its plausibility becomes frightening. In his stories, August has flashed back to the year 2000, in which the Presidential election led to riots and the demand to abolish the Electoral College. Eventually New York, New England, and nine states in the Midwest, seceded, precipitating the Second Civil War, against President George Bush and the Federals.
The novel opens with Owen Brick, a young man dressed in fatigues, trapped in a deep hole, unable to escape. He has no idea where he is or how he got there, but he cannot avoid his mission to assassinate the creator of the war--August Brill, who also created him. As the novel switches from present reality into the alternative reality and back, the author makes thoughtful observations about writing and its ability to create realities, but on the plot level (which ends after 2/3 of the book), it is also suspenseful, exciting, and a great deal of fun. Sly humor peeks through much of the alternative reality plot line, and the ironic twists on several levels keep the reader entertained. The characters grow as they share their family histories, and as the Second Civil War rages in one reality, the real characters, like Brill and his friends, remember the very real horrors of the Second World War and Iraq. Intense and clever, Auster's novel examines important issues of war, reality, and identity in fewer than two hundred pages. n Mary Whipple
The New York Trilogy (Green Integer)
The Invention of Solitude
The Book of Illusions: A Novel
Travels in the Scriptorium: A Novel
Three Films: Smoke, Blue in the Face, and Lulu on the Bridge
Wheelchair bound August Brill is recovering from an auto crash with his daughter Miriam and granddaughter Katya in Vermont. Haunted by the crash, he cannot sleep and tells himself stories into the night. He's a retired film critic who should be writing his own novel, but cannot find the inspiration. The plight of a wheelchair bound man alone in the dark is heartrending.
Brill tells the story of Owen Brick, a soldier-assassin in the second US Civil War. In this alternate history, after the 2000 election the State of New York led the secession from the Union. Brick is detailed to assassinate the man who has invented the war, apparently a recluse who has invented the war by writing it. The reluctant soldier Brick is drawn through a world gone mad.
Brill also tells the stories of his granddaughter, Katya, who is recovering from the tragic murder of the man she loves, and Miriam, the daughter, who is writing a book about Nathaniel Hawthorne's family. Brill's narrative segues into both film critiques and novel synopses.
The story tried my patience as a listener. This is not an audiobook you can put on and go about your workday with the usual interruptions. The story shifts so rapidly you are going to get lost and have to repeat more than once. Portions of the story--for example, Brill's recounting of Katya's response to the film "The Bicycle Thief" were somewhat long and tedious. Ultimately, "Man in the Dark" was worth the listen, but I had to clear the decks of anything else to do so.
Rebecca Kyle, September 2008
As one would expect from a Paul Auster novel, Man in the Dark is elegantly written. Like most of Auster's characters, Brill is isolated, and not only (or primarily) because of his limited mobility is limited by a recent traffic accident. He has difficulty connecting with both his daughter and granddaughter; the reader suspects he had the same problem with his wife before her death. The main characters are all working their way through pain. The story Brill creates to combat his insomnia is telling: Brill seems to want to cast himself as the abducted man (relatively young, happily married) who is charged with killing the old, destructive man Brill imagines himself to have become. Ultimately he confides something of his life to his granddaughter, who is also unable to sleep, and by doing so perhaps starts coming to terms with the person he has become.
All of this is heavy stuff and yet, at the end, I was left with an "is that all there is?" feeling. I was hoping for a bit more substance to emerge from this thin novel. Still, I found it worth reading just for the enjoyment of Auster's prose: the writing is sharp and poignant. For that I gave it 4 stars, although I would probably give it 3 1/2 if I could.