Man in the Dark Paperback – Aug 19 2008
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Seventy-two-year-old August Brill is recovering from a car accident. Plagued by insomnia, he tries to push back thoughts of things he would prefer to forget - his wife's recent death and the horrific murder of his granddaughter's boyfriend, Titus - by telling himself stories. He imagines a parallel world in which America is not at war with Iraq but with itself. In this other America the twin towers did not fall, and the 2000 election results led to secession, as state after state pulled away from the union, and a bloody civil war ensued. Brill gradually opens up to his granddaughter, recounting the story of his marriage and confronting the grim reality of Titus' death. "Man in the Dark" is a novel of our time, a book that forces us to confront the blackness of night whilst also celebrating the existence of ordinary joys in a brutal world.
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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 on-going stories, August flashes back to the year 2000, in which the Presidential election has 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 action from Brill's alternative reality and switches back and forth with reality. Owen Brick, a young man dressed in fatigues, is 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. Mary Whipple
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