Thursday, October 21, 2010

Bag O' Books: Paul Auster's "City of Glass"

Three thoughts about Paul Auster's "City of Glass":

* This is the first novel - a novella, really - in the so-called "New York Trilogy," and that name is apt. It's a cliche to say that "the city is a character" in the book; it's also, perhaps, imprecise. Instead, it's fair to say this book cannot exist apart from the city. Specific streets and neighborhoods and even Mookie Wilson's early reign with the Mets are all integral to the story.

* Though ostensibly a detective story, "City of Glass" is a meditation on language itself. And Auster brings a nice sense of play to the proceedings -- not just in the meta sense of placing a writer named "Paul Auster" near the center of the action, but in his use of names ("Max Work," "Peter Stillman") and in considering the many ways that individual words can take on multiple meanings. This sounds like heavy, sloglike reading but it's not: It is a pleasure.

* That makes it sound too hoity-toity. What is lovely, also, about Auster's writing is its rootedness in the physical world: Not just New York, but in the smaller crevices of life -- the reality of notebooks and pens and apartments and tables and plastic phones and more. You can almost hold Auster's world in your hands; you can certainly hold it in your mind. And that's a pretty fair accomplishment.

Finally: You should never judge a book by its cover, but the Art Spiegelman cover to my paperback copy of the book -- bound together with the other volumes in the trilogy -- is astounding, and conveys the art and play to be found within.

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