From “City of Glass”: It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not.
“City of Glass: As a result of a strange phone call in the middle of the night, Quinn, a writer of detective stories, becomes enmeshed in a case more puzzling than any he might have written.
Ghosts: Blue, a student of Brown, has been hired by White to spy on Black. From a window of a rented room on Orange Street, Blue keeps watch on his subject, who is across the street, staring out of his window.
The Locked Room: Fanshawe has disappeared, leaving behind his wife and baby and a cache of extraordinary novels, plays, and poems. What happened to him–and why is the narrator, Fanshawe’s boyhood friend, lured obsessively into his life?”
I was debating about whether to write three separate reviews or just one, but as you can see, I’m going with one.
I’m not sure what I think of Auster; I can definitely see why some people hate his work, but I actually find its tone kind of endearing and certainly interesting. That said, The New York Trilogy was very different from Moon Palace, and although the writing and overall mood were similar, this collection of novellas was so much weirder. “Surreal” is a good word to describe them.
“City of Glass”, the first novella in the collection, was an utterly bizarre take on the mystery genre. The mystery and the premise is never fully explained; neither is the case of mistaken identity, “the wrong number that started it”. It was very difficult for me to understand Quinn’s motivations; he just decides to take on this case even though his name isn’t Paul Auster, and meticulously follows Stillman around. The story started off great, but then it started to get so odd.
The same thing happened with all three novellas; the story began intriguingly enough, and then it just devolved into insanity and irrationality, with metaphorical discussions on park benches, and characters going around doing crazy things. The prime example of this is Quinn camping out in front of the Stillman’s apartment for months, living underneath a dumpster and just obsessively watching the entrance. It didn’t make any sense; why would anyone in their right mind go to that length just to carry out a job that wasn’t even meant for them in the first place? But I suppose that’s the point; Quinn is no longer in his right mind; he has no idea what he’s doing or why he’s doing it.
The main character of Blue in the second novella, “Ghosts”, also makes some pretty odd choices. While I did enjoy the fact that all of the characters were named after colors (Blue, Brown, White, Black, Gold, and also Violet and Rose), the story was just bizarre. Blue obsessively watches Black at his desk because that’s what White told him to do. He dismisses even just leaving, as if that can’t happen. Yes, perhaps, the outcome was inexorable, and that’s certainly the idea, but I think that most of the time everyone has a choice, at least to a certain extent.
In general, this book just puzzled me, and “The Locked Room” was no exception. The story begin appealingly enough, but it descended into darkness and madness, just like the others. None of them are bad per se; just different. Auster certainly knows how to take the typical mystery and turn it on its head.
The stories don’t really seem to have much connection, not until the very end, when there is some. I won’t give it away, but even that was confusing.
Auster does write very well. For instance: “New York was an inexhaustible space, a labyrinth of endless steps, and no matter how far he walked, no matter how well he came to know its neighborhoods and streets, it always left him with the feeling of being lost. Lost, not only in the city, but within himself as well…On his best walks, he was able to feel that he was nowhere. And this, finally was all he ever asked of things: to be nowhere. New York was the nowhere he had built around himself, and he realized that he had no intention of ever leaving it again.” Wow.
If you’re into surreal fiction, this book is definitely for you. I didn’t love it, but the writing was quite skillful.