three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
50-Jan-Feb-2011
By: 
Paul Auster
user_rating: 
0

A-Sunset ParkCritically acclaimed postmodern novelist Paul Auster is the author of bestselling novels The New York Trilogy (1987), The Book of Illusions (2002), The Brooklyn Follies (2005), and Invisible (2009).

The Story: In 2001, 21-year-old Miles Heller, devastated by his role in the accident that killed his stepbrother, quit school, abandoned his family, and left New York. Seven years later, Miles makes a modest living cleaning out foreclosed houses in Florida, having doggedly purged himself of worldly desires. Then, a chance meeting with a beautiful and intellectual high school student sends him tumbling head-over-heels in love. Threatened with exposure, Miles flees to Brooklyn and a dilapidated house full of squatters--one of them, Bing Nathan, an old friend. Once again in the same city as his estranged family, Miles intends to lay low and wait until his girlfriend turns 18, but fate may have different plans.
Henry Holt. 320 pages. $25. ISBN: 9780805092868

Cleveland Plain Dealer 4 of 5 Stars
"Auster doesn't repair his characters so much as he curates and bears witness to their brokenness, holding each flawed life up to the light with great tenderness and compassion. It makes for a surprisingly moving novel. Each character is given a kind of dignity even in the midst of anguish, loneliness and despair." Paula McLain

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 4 of 5 Stars
"Not one of the po-mo jabs or metafictional feints for which Auster is renowned, it's a haymaker of a contemporary American novel, realistic and serious as your life. ... It feels strongly connected not only to the anxieties of our age but the primordial ones, too." Jim Higgins

Minneapolis Star Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"Miles' father, the founder of a company that puts out small novels, wryly says he might write a book called Forty Years in the Desert: Publishing Literature in a Country Where People Hate Books. The elder Heller may feel gloomy about the future of serious fiction, but writers like Auster give us reason to be optimistic." Kevin Canfield

Richmond Times-Dispatch 4 of 5 Stars
"Auster is well known for his masterfully cunning postmodern experiments, but with Sunset Park he has shifted gears and written a realist novel that, in the course of a swift-moving, character-driven narrative, explores guilt, luck and our enduring need for human contact and a sense of belonging. It's a powerful, even surprising achievement, and readers might find their one regret is seeing the book end." Doug Childers

San Francisco Chronicle 3.5 of 5 Stars
"At times, even with Miles Heller to play the role of common thread, Auster's guided tour of these small, slightly off-kilter lives feels a bit as if it lacks a center. But Auster has always excelled in capturing the pathos of the banal and the everyday, and Sunset Park is, for the most part, another enjoyable contribution to his fictional cosmos." Troy Jollimore

Los Angeles Times 3 of 5 Stars
"The novel suffers from an excess of analysis, especially the essay-like accounts of the fatwa against Salman Rushdie and PEN American Center's efforts on behalf of human rights. Still, Auster keeps coming back to ‘the pull of the stories, always the stories, the thousands of stories, the millions of stories, and yet one never tires of them‘--although, of course, they are never enough." David L. Ulin

Entertainment Weekly 2 of 5 Stars
"Here, the multiple vantage points only kill any narrative momentum gained from the tragic accident at the heart of the novel. And the writing itself is too full of monotonous lists and flavorless descriptions. Once you get the whole thing assembled in front of you, the picture's really not much to look at." Keith Staskiewicz

Critical Summary

Paul Auster, a novelist best known for his metafiction and postmodern experimentation, has taken a slightly different tack with this captivating, playfully odd contemporary novel. An accomplished storyteller with a special talent for unearthing the tragic in the everyday, Auster has created a world in Sunset Park that is not so much bleak as it is "just possessed of a wide-eyed understanding of consequence" (Los Angeles Times). Though Entertainment Weekly believed that Auster's shifting perspectives muddied the narrative, the other critics praised his sharply defined and endearing characters, singling out Miles as one of his best creations to date. "Even if it is not ultimately a comforting vision," notes the San Francisco Chronicle, "there is something deeply charming about Auster's quirky universe." Hear, hear.