[(review date 26 March 1989) In the following review, Dirda offers positive assessment of Moon Palace.]
Hemingway once remarked that "all modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn." That story of a boy's passage toward maturity, told against the astounding dreamscape of America, has since been repeated in the adventures of Nick Carraway, Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man and countless others. Moon Palace, which relates the growing up of Marco Stanley Fogg, shows that there's a dance in the old theme yet, especially when a brilliant writer takes the floor.
After working for many years as a translator of modern French poetry, Paul Auster rocketed into semi-celebrity with the publication of his New York trilogy: City of Glass, Ghosts, and The Locked Room.
The first of these novels played with the conventions of the hard-boiled detective story, as a mystery writer finds himself impersonating a private eye in order to help a beautiful dark-haired woman. The second, displaying a more austere Auster, worked a series of Beckett-like permutations on the relationship between observer and observed: a p.i. named Blue spends years shadowing a character named Black. The concluding volume of the trilogy took up the modernist conceit of a shamus-like biographer compelled to learn the truth about a writer, no matter what the personal costs.
Chock-a-block with arcana about language, responsibility and identity, the novels might have been nothing more than a high-brow snooze were it...