Sunday, February 26, 2017

Review: "4 3 2 1" by Paul Auster

If I had to pick five writers who had the most impact not just on my creative endeavors as a writer, but just my overall life in general, Paul Auster has a firm place on that list. While I don’t find much influence in the stories I’m churning out as we speak, I find the worldview he presents in his novels to be rich, multi-textured and endlessly life affirming. From the existential noir of The New York Trilogy and Moon Palace, oddly successful experiments like The Music of Chance, Mr. Vertigo and Timbuktu (a novel which has grown in stature for me over time), to multi layered narratives about grief, family and healing like The Book of Illusions, Oracle Night and Invisible, his last great novel. After seven years without a book, and seven years without reading one, at least for me, it was a pleasant surprise to find out last year that he had a new novel coming out called 4 3 2 1, and I was even more excited when I found out that it was almost 900 pages long. Was it worth the weight and its skull crushing page count? I am happy to say that it is. While only time will tell if it is better as what consider being his three pillars, which are The New York Trilogy, The Book of Illusions and Invisible, but it can certainly share ample shelf space with them (since it will need it either way), and it is world’s better than something like Travels in Scriptorium. It has an interesting gimmick attached to it, one that is a change of pace for Auster himself and more than a little daunting for the reader. It tells the story Archibald Isaac Ferguson, who shares the birth year of Auster himself. After an initial chapter, describing how his grandfather came to America and got his named followed by how his father started a business and met Archie’s mother, the book fissures into four separate timelines that follow his birth right up until the end of the sixties. They are independent of each other and as far as I can tell, the realities in each are not dependent on the actions Ferguson takes in each one. They are merely four dimensions filled with different possibilities. In one, Ferguson’s father’s hardware business could be a massive success, in another it could fail miserably. Archie’s father can be a source of terrible grief in one story, and a source of hatred in another. In one, he can discover something about himself in an old movie theater that is not hinted at in any of the other three. And Amy Schneidermann, his constant love who is a focal point in all four, has shifting properties as well, with him being a long term love of Archie in one, a step cousin in another and stepsister in yet another. Historical events such as the Kennedy assassinations, the start of the Vietnam War and the riots at Columbia University are explored from different vantage points in each section, making this novel one story told four times over. It sounds cheap, but Auster’s talent makes it magical.  This is a very Auster-riffic novel; filled with existential musings, chance meetings, cruel twists of fate and a self-reflexive ending he is known for. If you are not a fan of his, this novel will annoy the shit out of you. But for me, someone’s whose literary maturity can be directly linked to his best novels, this large hearted book was a treat that I savored every sentence of.

Rating: 5/5

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