I met the novelist Paul Auster at the Miami International Book Fair a few years ago and, like everyone else in the room, didn’t really like him. No need to go into detail about it, because there was nothing exceptional about his behavior, he just emanated a kind of casual arrogance and why-am-I-here disdain for both the audience and organizers.
I dig the work, though, particularly his prose (haven’t read much of his verse), which is prone to long sentences, lotsa commas, and a graceful kinda glide between action and rumination. Accessible language. A genuine love for stories and storytelling, the epic as well as the weird and the small and the everyday, the exceptional, the ethically complex.
Yesterday at Books & Books I saw that his most recent release is a somewhat arbitrary hodgepodge of nonfiction pieces that span the full 50 years of his career (Auster’s in his 70s, and has written some compelling anecdotes about how badly he struggled to make a career for himself in his 20s) and I flipped the book open to a random essay, I forget what the topic was, and got absorbed right away into the first sentence, which spanned two or three pages, and which glossed effortlessly across huge swaths of time and invoked the names of maybe a dozen people from his social life and career. It was really impressive. Swift. It’s the kinda thing that would’ve swept me up and made me grin really hard when I was in college (and had a passionate spell of reading like a dozen of Auster’s books in quick succession as a junior) and, having a personal hardon for that kinda writing style and having gotten off with it myself, I know how it feels to write really long sentences with the intention, basically, of pleasing yourself.
But I was wondering if he hadn’t crossed the line into self-parody? Like, rather than writing really long sentences because he liked the rhythm, is he writing it to see how long he can make it?
Again, Auster is the subject of the first experience I’ve ever had that made me suddenly understand what every older person in the arts means when they tell you not to meet your heroes; he made such a consummately awful impression on everybody in that audience, and later on at the signing table, that I really can’t read his work the same way. So I’m wondering how much of my impressions about that essay are colored by my dislike for the guy. Cuz not only have I not read a full book of his since that encounter, I didn’t even finish the one I was reading, called Report from the Interior, which was also the one he was there to promote. I did, however, kinda reflexively shell out $30 for his latest hardback.
have thought that this would become one of the authors with whom I’d come to
have such a complicated relationship. Kinda the same thing I’ve got with Jean
Luc Godard. Like you can’t tell when he’s talking to you or at you or down
toward your ant-sized facelessness or really just talking to himself (and
expecting you to eavesdrop and take notes).