Sunset Park: A Novel Paperback – Oct 25 2011
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“Paul Auster is one of those sages with confounding talent--confounding for one because he's simply that good... He belongs among Vonnegut, Roth, and DeLillo... Now is the time to herald the Post-Recession Novel. Sunset Park looks to be it.” ―Claire Howorth, The Daily Beast
“Exquisitely crafted, surprisingly tender... A story grounded in the potent emotions of love, loss, regret and vengeance, and the painful reality of current day calamities.... Auster fans and newcomers will find in Sunset Park his usual beautifully nuanced prose.... [and] a tremendous crash bang of an ending.” ―Jane Ciabattari, NPR "Books We Like"
“A swift-moving, character-driven narrative [that] explores guilt, luck, and our enduring need for human contact and a sense of belonging. Powerful…Readers might find their one regret is seeing the book end.” ―Doug Childers, Richmond Times-Dispatch
“A haymaker of a contemporary American novel, realistic and serious as your life.” ―Jim Higgins, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“With a plot that encompasses war in the Middle East, economic recession and the perils of the publishing industry, a contemporary vitality distinguishes the latest from the veteran author…. Sure to please Auster fans and likely to attract new readers as well.” ―Kirkus (Starred Review)
“Passionately literary… every element is saturated with implication as each wounded, questing character's story illuminates our tragic flaws and profound need for connection, coherence, and beauty. In a time of daunting crises and change, Auster reminds us of lasting things, of love, art, and ‘the miraculous strangeness of being alive.'” ―Donna Seaman, Booklist (Starred Review)
“Auster deftly balances minute details that evoke New York City, post-financial meltdown, with marvelously drawn characters bruised but unbowed by life's vicissitudes. He has an impressive array of literary nominations to his credit, but this should be the novel that brings him a broader readership.” ―Sally Bissell, Library Journal (Starred Review)
“Auster is in excellent form… a gratifying departure from the postmodern trickery he's known for, one full of crisp turns of phrase and keen insights.” ―Publishers Weekly
“Sunset Park is sprawling but taut, toweringly ambitious in scope yet wholly intimate in the sphere of its characters' lives. While we still teeter on the brink of recession in an uncertain economic recovery--with millions still out of work and losing their homes--this novel is probably one of the most important literary touchstones of our era. And it's a true pleasure to read.” ―Jason Bennett, Library Journal
“A clear-eyed and muscular fable about tough economic times.” ―Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal (Pre-Pub "My Picks")
“The latest and arguably most user-friendly among the whip-smart fiction canon of Paul Auster... [A] winning novel... In Sunset Park, Auster seems to carry all of humanity inside him.” ―Jan Stuart, The Boston Globe
“As remarkable as are Auster's skill and experience, this kind of writing--this kind of ending--takes another, rarer attribute: tremendous courage.” ―David Takami, The Seattle Times
“Unexpectedly searing... Sunset Park's prodigal-son tale is somberly poignant, a study of how deeply the urge to connect runs.” ―Mark Athitakis, Salon.com
“Classic Auster.” ―Joseph Peschel, The Kansas City Star
“Resonate[s] with a warm acknowledgment of the tests and limitations of age and the vibrancy of experience... A lovely ride.” ―Kate Christensen, Elle
“Auster has delivered an emotionally appealing book about the varieties of modern love... The son-father story is in fact the warmest line of narrative Auster has ever written, outside of the man and the dog story in his much earlier novel, Timbuktu, and it lends the entire novel a certain provident heat.” ―Alan Cheuse, Dallas News
About the Author
Paul Auster is the bestselling, award-winning author of 16 novels, including Sunset Park, Invisible, Man in the Dark, Travels in the Scriptorium, The Brooklyn Follies, and Oracle Night. His work has been translated into more than 40 languages. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.See all Product Description
Top Customer Reviews
Much of "Sunset Park" chronicles lives of quiet desperation led by Miles's friends, many of whom are involved with book publishing. Auster relies on Miles's awkward reunions with his father and friends, as a means of describing and commenting on literary high life in New York City; lives which may be unrecognizable to those who aren't familiar with the craft of writing or the business of publishing. The most jarring of these occurs early on, with Auster recounting in thinly disguised fiction, the suicide and subsequent funeral service of a young woman whose father is a well known writer.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Miles is 28 years old, and one day while sitting on the grass in a public park, reading The Great Gatsby (one of many iconic American cultural landmarks referenced in the book) he meets Pilar Sanchez, who happens to be reading the same novel. That bond connects them immediately, but there's one hitch to that connection. Pilar, though lovely, smart, and irresistible, is seventeen years old. That doesn't slow down Miles at all; he falls deeply in love with her. Both have experienced deep tragedies in their lives; Miles' older brother Bobby was accidently killed by a car when Miles shoved him into the road while the two were walking together. Pilar's parents were both killed in an auto accident as well. She lives with her three sisters, one of whom tries to blackmail Miles into giving her some of the merchandise he gathers from repossessed houses. She threatens to call the police and tell them he is committing statutory rape with her sister regularly.
The plot, as they say, thickens. Miles returns to the Sunset Park in Brooklyn where he lived some time ago before becoming estranged from his father and stepmother. Because he is without a regular job and intends to return to Florida after Pilar turns eighteen, he moves in with some friends who are "squatting" in a condemned building in the area: Bing Nathan, Alice Bergstrom, Ellen Brice and Jake Baum, and the remainder of the book is about the intersecting relationships between these five people, as well as Miles' lingering resentments regarding his parents and stepmother. You will notice virtually all the characters have names that evoke various American figures, both fictional and real. And in addition, additional American motifs that touch down again and again in the book include Miles' fascination with baseball lore, particularly Herb Score, the Cleveland Indian left hander whose career was shattered with Yankee shortsop Gil MacDougald hit a line drive that shattered multiple bones in his face, and Mark "the Bird" Fydrich, the Detroit Tiger 1976 Rookie of the Year pitcher who became famous for his virtually perpetual motion on the mound.
Then there are continuing references to a classic American film of the late 40s, The Best Years of our Lives, because one of Miles' housemates, Alice, is writing a PhD dissertation on the film. The film's ironic title and many of its remarkably delineated details, resonates as Miles and his friends struggle to live the "best years of their lives" in what are the worst years of the life of their country, As another great novelist wrote in another great tale of two cities, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." While the novel's ending seems hurried and somewhat inconclusive, you can chalk up another brilliant performance by Auster and you will not want to miss this book.
There are more sexual insights into the characters than in previous Auster novels. If such details elaborated and defined the narrative I could see his point for including them. But in this case it adds a seedy undertone that makes the reader feel more a party to gossip than a participant in an illuminating narrative. At one point a character who is a publisher toys briefly with the idea of publishing an artist's raunchy portfolio as a ploy to attract readers. I couldn't help wondering if Auster succumbed to the same subterfuge. Auster is a great writer. His work doesn't need such artless stimulants to boost sales.
On the plus side Auster gives brief but interesting views into the publishing world, the motivations of PEN and their work for Liu Xiaobo, as well as insights into the writer's life. Conversely he writes engagingly about baseball. It is these unconventional contrasts I enjoy most about Auster's work. The writing, as always, is excellent and despite its flaws is an effortless read.
This novel is less postmodern than his recent book Invisible. It focuses on debris: physical debris from trashed-out foreclosed homes in Florida that Miles Heller, a Brown University dropout, rescues through his camera lens. And mental debris that Miles wrestles with after a spontaneous action on his part results in an accidental death, causing him to flee from his New York family and live in self-imposed exile down south. A chance encounter with a high school student, Cuban-American Pilar Sanchez, while reading The Great Gatsby brings fleeting connection into his life for a few happy months. But Pilar is underage and he is soon forced to flee north to avoid family charges that could lead to jail time.
As a result of his return northbound trek, Miles moves in with the other characters that populate this book: four flat-broke twentysomethings who are struggling with issues of personal identity and past failures. Together, they illegally squat in an abandoned house in Brooklyn's Sunset Park, openly evading the government and awaiting the day when eviction will become a reality. Each has placed his or her life on hold while forestalling a crucial decision. In Miles case, he is awaiting the right time connect again with his father Morris, an independent publisher who is fighting the dissolution of both his business and marriage and has never quite given up that his son will eventually find his way back home.
The fractured narrative, told sequentially in the third-person POV, weaves together a number of elements: the economic recession and ensuring foreclosure crisis, baseball trivia including Jack Lohrke ("Lucky") who cheated death repeatedly until the very end, William Wyler's 1946 coming-home classic The Best Years of Our Lives, the demise of the literary publishing houses, To Kill A Mockingbird, and the Hospital of Broken Things, which repairs artifacts of a world that once was. This seemingly haphazard assortment is not quite so haphazard on second glance: all are centered on one's ability to out-cheat fate and assume control of one's own destiny...or not. The themes that Auster has explored in the past - chance encounters, tragic flaws and past events, art and solitude, a rebellion and penance - are all here again.
James Wood, the esteemed New Yorker critic, called Auster's prose "comfortingly artificial." With the exception of a few passages that I found to be inorganically graphic, I don't agree. As these disparate elements come together at the end; the power took my breath away in ways that no artificial construct ever could.
In essence, Auster is asking: "Is luck random or is it within our control? How much responsibility can we take for occurrences? What does self-forgiveness entail? Is it worth hoping for a future when there may be no future? Should we live for the passing moment or take a bigger picture into consideration? These questions - perfectly posed for today's tough economic times and daunting crises -- will have you ruminating long after you read the last pages.
I have read several of Auster's novels. I'm always surprised, sometimes enchanted, occasionally engrossed, and often captivated, and my opinions are not always shared by other readers. I loved "The Brooklyn Follies", for instance, and its characters stayed with me for quite a while. I don't expect extreme artistry, contrived plot or brilliant and innovative style from a good writer e v e r y s i n g l e t i m e.
What I expect is a good story. "The Brooklyn Follies" was one.
"Sunset Park", truthfully, almost lost me in the first 50 pages. Had it been anyone other than Auster, I might have set the book aside; but I've come to expect something from him that I've learned one can't expect from most writers, so I kept reading. In fact, I read the entire book in one day. As I read, it began to feel like a journey. Imagine that you are in a comfortable vehicle with an unknown destination; the driver is a mature man who's well traveled, educated, erudite and, more importantly, emotionally aware and accessible. During this journey, he's in control of the destination, you are merely a passenger, and he begins to tell you a story. There are points in the narrative that bring you wide awake; there are others that are annoying, tidbits of information you don't need and don't want; there are eye opening moments, great regret in places, the sharing of an entire lifetime can't always be entertaining but it *should* be recognizable. To you, personally and deeply. Especially if you've also lived a lifetime. And this is all of those things.
At the end of the journey, as you step away from your narrator and his vehicle, you know you've glimpsed something about him, something he's generously shared in the guise of his tale. There were moments that I talked back to this narrator, even looked at his photograph on the back flap of the book, that's how real he became for me as he told me his story. I await the next one. Hurry up.
The only other Auster book I've read was The Book of Illusions and at the end of it I remember feeling like I'd wasted my time on something that was essentially hollow at its core. This book with its themes of loss and heartbreak seemed like it had much more substance. I enjoyed it at first but there are too many characters and they aren't fleshed out enough (despite his haunting secret Miles is a bit of a male Mary-Sue because all the other characters in his share house fall for him). The shared house idea was a great idea which never got off the ground and the ending seemed very rushed. The quality of writing also deteriorated.
I thought this was going to provide insights into contemporary America but again I was left feeling very underwhelmed and empty. The book has the illusion of depth, but that's all it is. Auster doesn't seem to know much about young people (or women) and the references to sex just seemed forced and a icky, like a grandfather trying to be "hip" with the young folk. This is especially true of Bing's secret feelings which just come out of nowhere towards the end because Auster, it seems, decided he needed a gay angle, so he just randomly threw it in. I think this is the end of the line for me and Auster.