Good opening lines and paragraphs are tough to find but Paul Auster came up with a doozy for The Brooklyn Follies: "I was looking for a quiet place to die. Someone recommended Brooklyn, and so the next morning I traveled down there…" The I is Nathan Glass; divorced, retired insurance salesman, estranged from his daughter, lung cancer patient (in remission) who's looking for a place to die. To wile away the moments until then, Nathan begins by consigning to paper the human blunders, foibles, inane act and embarrassments committed by himself and others. He calls these his "Brooklyn Follies."
Soon after his arrival in Brooklyn, Nathan runs across his nephew Tom, working at a local bookstore. A scholar destined for greatness, Tom has derailed and after years of penance driving a taxi cab, has chosen to sell rare books. What follows is a story of redemption, lost souls and the lives that intersect with Nathan and Tom's saga.
Nathan is a lovable rogue. He exists in the calm eye of a storm while all around him chaos rules. His reentry into Tom's life helps Tom regain his will to live and slowly reengage life. The novel thrusts the reader into this storm, disorienting the smooth flow of plot by adding new characters and continually altering the pace. The chaos is thrilling and serves to absorb the reader more fully into the search of the main characters.
Near the end of Brooklyn Follies, Auster shares a thought that permeates the novel: "Most lives vanish. A person dies, and little by little all traces of that life disappear." Nathan goes on to wonder who publishes books about the forgotten one. Auster has answered that question with The Brooklyn Follies, a novel chockfull of forgotten ones and little lives. Redemption for Nathan and another enthralling read from a master novelist for those of us fortunate enough to enter his Brooklyn.
As Auster reminds us, "Never underestimate the power of books."
Read my review at Armchair Interviews - The Brooklyn Follies.