My interest in reading Paul Auster’s The New York Trilogy started when Auster was referenced in The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall. Reviews of The Raw Shark Texts have hinted at Hall’s indebtedness to Auster. I loved Raw Shark, so it seemed like a natural progression to check out Auster’s work, which I had not read. There were other signs pointing to this book as well. When we were coming up with our list of the Top 25 books of the past 25 years, a reader’s e-mail suggested that our list should include The New York Trilogy. The book is also included on the list of 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. When I spotted it on Weezie’s book shelf, I just had to borrow it.
The book is comprised of three novellas: City of Glass, Ghosts, and The Locked Room. Each story has a mystery at its center that requires an investigation of some kind. The stories seem unrelated, until the final story, The Locked Room makes some connections that will have you flipping back to reread sections. That doesn’t mean that a nice package of inter-connectedness falls neatly into place. It doesn’t. Rather, Auster refers back to characters in previous stories in ways that give them new dimensions.
The first story , City of Glass, begins with a mysterious phone call to a mystery writer, Quinn, who is mistaken for a private detective named Paul Auster by the caller. The writer eventually decides to help the caller, and we soon learn of his own tragic circumstances even as he being pulled into the personal tragedy of another. Loss and identity are definite themes in this story, and they will be echoed and reflected back through the cracked mirrors of the remaining stories.
The second story, Ghosts, is about a private detective, Blue, who is hired by Black to keep an eye on White. (I had the idea that Quentin Tarantino was almost certainly influenced by this story in naming teh characters in his movie Reservoir Dogs). The two men spy on each other from opposite sides of the street and their lives become hopelessly connected. Why have they been asked to watch each other and who is pulling the strings?
The final story centers on the mysterious Fanshawe. Fanshawe’s widow contacts his long lost childhood friend, a writer, to evaluate the manuscripts that Fanshawe wrote before he died. The books are published posthumously to enormous acclaim, which more than adequately provide for his widow and friend (now romantically involved). Then things get weird.
Here’s some real-life weirdness. Steven Hall is an acknowledged fan of Auster, is influenced by his work, references Auster by name in his book, etc. Check this out: The Raw Shark Texts begins with a man awakening in a room with no idea of who he is or how he got there. Paul Auster’s new book, Travels in the Scriptorium, begins with a man awakening in room with no idea of who he is or how he got there. The books came out within three months of each other (Auster’s came out first). If you’re Hall, does that just mess with your head completely?
Auster’s work in these three collected stories will mess with your head. As each layer of the onion is peeled back, revealing more of the nature of what is truly happening, more questions are raised than are answered. The questions asked are the “big” questions for which there are no answers. WikiPedia describes the book as “experimental detective stories” that are “not conventional detective stories organized around a mystery and a series of clues. Rather, he uses the detective form to address existential issues and questions of identity, creating his own distinctively postmodern form in the process.”
Yeah. That’s either your thing or it isn’t. I thought that the book was great, and I’ve become intrigued with Auster as an author. I’m on way to working through Auster’s back catalog. I picked up Scriptorium as soon as I finished Trilogy. If you’re an Auster fan, please make a recommendation for what I should be next on my list.