Paul Auster: Overview

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Author: Stephen Akey
Date: 1996
From: Contemporary Novelists(6th ed.)
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 1,191 words

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Paul Auster has frequently been called a "postmodern" novelist, partly because, one suspects, critics don't know what else to call a writer whose works include metaphysical detective stories, an anti-utopian fantasy, an extravagant Bildungsroman, and an ambiguous parable of fate and chance. To the extent that the term denotes an ironic stance towards language and its uses, Auster is indeed postmodern. Without surrendering this irony or foregoing the advantage of self-conscious narration, Auster has moved to a greater expansiveness of form and content. His more recent novels have not been embarrassed to ask big questions about the possibility of self-knowledge and personal redemption and they have conceded to the reader the pleasures, not unmediated, of character and story.

Such pleasures are rather scant in The New York Trilogy, the epistemological mystery novels that established Auster's reputation. What entertainment they provide is almost wholly cerebral: the delectation of intellectual puzzles that have little or no relation to a reality beyond the texts themselves. City of Glass, the first volume, is about a mystery novelist named Quinn whose attempt to live the life of the kind of hardened gumshoe he writes about ends in a tragic muddle. Not the least of the novel's ontological jokes is that the detective Quinn is mistaken for is named Paul Auster. Auster himself, or a simulacrum of him, appears in a scene in which the increasingly desperate Quinn goes to him for advice. Interrupted while composing an essay on the vanishing narrators of Don Quixote, Auster is unable to help; he's a writer, not a private investigator. This Paul Auster, however, is not the author of City of Glass. The "actual" author, it turns out, is a former friend of Auster's who heard the story from him and is convinced that Auster has...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420000401