This is the 14th novel from Paul Auster, whose fiction deals with memory, elusive identities, and stories within stories. Recently reviewed: Travels in the Scriptorium ( May/June 2007)
The Story: August Brill has more than a few good reasons for his insomnia. His wife has died, yet his grief is complicated by painful memories of an affair. He worries that his long career as a book critic consisted mostly of hackwork, and his daughter and granddaughter are similarly adrift. Brill tries to put himself to sleep by telling himself stories about a man named Owen Brick, a birthday-party magician. But the world Brill imagines for Brick is an alternate universe where the terrorist attacks of 9/11 never happened but where the 2000 presidential election led to civil war. A faction in this conflict has tasked Brick with a grim assignment: kill the man responsible for the war. This man turns out not to be George W. Bush, but Brill himself.
Henry Holt. 180 pages. $23. ISBN: 0805088393
"Man in the Dark does nothing less than make the real and imagined seem to be one and the same, pieced together from the fragments of our lives. … This brief, remarkable novel does indeed possess the brilliant spare acuity of Beckett, but it also possesses a grand and generous heart." John Gregory Brown
"This short novel … says everything that needs to be said to understand life in our time. … Auster points out that all of us, metaphorical cripples in the dark of contemporary life, can find the impetus to roll on with the weird world by interpreting our own stories, by assigning symbolic value to the happenings of our lives and by fulfilling the needs of those we love." Dex Westrum
"Auster is attempting real portraiture, not merely the Escher-print trippiness that has earned him a spot on every freshman English major’s dorm-room bookshelf since the late 1980s. Man in the Dark still manages to be pretty trippy, though." Jeff Turrentine
"Many of Auster’s readers … have been around the block with him once too often to be stimulated by more navel-gazing about fiction’s engagement with itself. Nonetheless, Man in the Dark is at once haunting, thought-provoking, emotional and compellingly readable." Glenn C. Altschuler
San Diego Union-Tribune
"Now, the appearance of Paul Auster’s latest novel, Man in the Dark (his 14th), confirms that our best American writers are at last responding to these challenges [posed by the post-9/11 years]. … Readers may find Brill’s journey from darkness to dawn a bit too predictable, and, if anything, Man in the Dark never struck me as being terrifying enough." Larry McCaffery
New York Times
"Auster contrives an eggshell of a device, too precious for the minatory message it hatches about the increasingly virulent split between liberals and conservatives. … With Man in the Dark, Mr. Auster’s literary collider has lost its subatomic energies; the result is wan as well as scattered." Richard Eder
Los Angeles Times
"Frankly, this book could be funnier. Or darker. Or meaner. Or something. … [Auster] backs away from really engaging with the dilemma he has set." Jane Smiley
"At a spare 180 pages, Man in the Dark is a mystifyingly languid piece of writing. … As indictments of our particular historical moment go, this is tepid stuff at best." Kristofer Collins
Reactions to Paul Auster’s new novel may very well have come from alternate universes themselves. In one world, Auster is a great American man of letters writing a postmodern response to the events of our time, particularly 9/11, as only he can. In another world, his novel is yet another failed attempt at fictional engagement with the past eight years. There is a universe where Auster has matured from a young writer with a genius for multilayered, self-referential plots to a more sensitive observer of human suffering and the stories we tell to save ourselves. Yet others see a world where Auster is playing exactly the same games he has for years, only with less-developed characters and a half-hearted attempt at social commentary. It may be that readers, like Auster’s characters, will have to invent their own stories in order to make any sense out of Man in the Dark.