three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
21-Mar-Apr-2006
By: 
Paul Auster
user_rating: 
0

A-TheBrooklynFollies"I was looking for a quiet place to die," says Nathan Glass, a retired insurance salesman, cancer survivor, divorcé, and estranged father. "Someone recommended Brooklyn, and so the next morning I traveled down there from Westchester to scope out the terrain." Once in Brooklyn, the hopeful recluse coincidentally reunites with Tom, a long-lost nephew and defeated academic; Tom’s flamboyant and unethical book-dealer boss; and a missing niece. Slowly, Nathan—intent on finishing a project called The Book of Human Folly—starts to embrace his life and the mélange of drag queens, diners, and neighborhoods that inhabit it.
Henry Holt. 304 pages. $24. ISBN: 0805077146

Baltimore Sun 4 of 5 Stars
"Partly metafictional, partly wry, more than partly full of chance encounters, and blessedly devoid of intellectual prattle. … [The characters] even suspect that there’s something not quite right with being good, that hope itself rests in stretching the rules, breaking the china, making mischief." Beth Kephart

Philadelphia Inquirer 4 of 5 Stars
"Paul Auster reminds us that our social and emotional infrastructure can creep up on us in beautiful and unexpected ways whether we like it or not, and that accepting this process and those people can be in itself heroic. By the end of this wonderful novel, there can be no doubt that Auster’s unprepossessing Nathan is a modern urban hero of a high order." Michael McHale

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"The Brooklyn Follies is probably the first authentic attempt to deal with the post-Sept. 11 world. … It is a novel striving for a true sense of community as opposed to the relentlessly obsessive banner of individuality that has become the crutch of most contemporary American fiction." David Hellman

Christian Science Monitor 3 of 5 Stars
"Sadly, readers are treated to too few excerpts from The Book of Human Folly, as Nathan’s career in cataloguing human frailty almost immediately takes a back seat to his new life as the Mr. Fix-it of his family. … Yet, as pleasant as it is to enjoy Auster’s smooth writing and engaging characters without the death spiral, Brooklyn Follies never feels like a major work." Yvonne Zipp

Los Angeles Times 3 of 5 Stars
"The warmth and gusto that New York City’s most populous borough sparks in Auster … sustain this novel’s appeal even when the author tries our patience with coy asides, a few stock characters (a warmhearted drag queen, an earthy widow) and some highly unlikely plot twists. … It seems that Auster … can’t waste time on minor matters of technique when what he has to tell us about the human condition is so important." Wendy Smith

NY Times Book Review 2.5 of 5 Stars
"[Auster] has a highly developed ear for authentic-seeming farfetched narratives. As Nathan’s and Tom’s own big adventures take over the book, though, the strange-but-true digressions of the first half turn into something not-so-strange—and false." Walter Kirn

Critical Summary

Auster’s previous fiction, from Moon Palace to The Book of Illusions, earned him the reputation as a modern experimentalist. At first glance, Brooklyn Follies appears to break from this categorization. In fact, notes the San Francisco Chronicle, the novel "is a classical work of American literature in the most traditional 19th century meaning of the phrase." Bound by the idea of human connection, coincidence, and possibility, Brooklyn Follies features flawed but mostly believable characters (including, of course, Auster’s place of residence, Brooklyn itself), diamond-hard prose, and many plot threads, some of them unconvincing. Yet, in a typical Austerian move, there’s more than meets the eye … It’s perhaps a minor Auster work, but one that may surprise fans.