The Brooklyn Follies

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Brooklyn Follies
by Paul Auster

I started this book on a flight to New York City. I read it on the subway from Brooklyn to Manhattan and sitting in Prospect Park while drinking coffee. I couldn’t have picked a better book to accompany me on my trip. From the first pages I realized it was set in the same neighborhood that I was staying in in Brooklyn. Much of it happens in a bookstore on Seventh Avenue and I had the chance to visit a bookstore on that very street. I tell you this because reading it in Brooklyn undoubtedly affected how I perceived the story.

Nathan Glass moves to Brooklyn after a health scare and a nasty divorce. He runs into his nephew Tom in a small bookstore run by an eccentric man named Harry. The three men find themselves caught in some sort of adult male limbo, each ending up somewhere he didn’t want to be. Their lives don’t kick start back into action until Tom’s 9-year-old niece Lucy appears, refusing to say a word.

I adored this story. I loved the beauty of the writing and the realistic characters. Some bad things happen, but that's life. As I read, I felt like I was in their world for awhile, walking down the streets in Brooklyn and perusing the shelves in Harry's shop. It was just a pleasure to read about these deeply flawed people and to part of their lives for a short while. They didn't all get a happy ending, but there were so many wonderful things that happened along the way.

(Park Slope in Brooklyn)

There’s a thin line between being so realistic in a novel that it’s depressing and awful to read and being realistic, but still exuding a feeling of hope and letting the readers see the joy in your characters’ lives. Auster is firmly in the second camp. He’s able to introduce us to Harry, Tom, Nathan and Lucy and make us love them even though we think some of their decisions are stupid. We all screw up and this book celebrates second chances, without shoving sunshine down your throat.

On top of all that goodness, there’s a deep literary love rooted in every page of the book. They are all readers and their discussions are often idealistic and fascinating. I found myself writing down so many quotes I wanted to mention that I ran out of room on my bookmark. Here are a few...

“Reading was my escape and my comfort, my consolation, my stimulant of choice: reading for the pure please of it, for the beautiful stillness that surrounds you when you hear an author’s words reverberating in your head.”

“Post-past?” “The now. And also the later. But no more dwelling on the then.”

“You can’t change the weather Tom.” Meaning that some things simply were what they were, and we had no choice but to accept them.”

“Asking forgiveness from someone is a complicated affair, a delicate balancing act between stiff-necked pride and tearful remorse, and unless you can truly open up to the other person, every apology sounds hollow and false.”

*Photo by moi.


Sandy Nawrot said...

It is hard not to love a book about books. I don't need everything to work out happily ever after either, as long as there is good writing and a glimmer of hope! The best possible combination when you're reading is if your reality is in sync with the makes it a four-dimensional experience.

Kate said...

Sounds like a good one - I put it on my list. I love the quotes you shared!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Sandy - I agree, that's much more important than a happy ending.

Kate - I had to limit myself, there were so many great quotes!

Alex (The Sleepless Reader) said...

I've never read Auster, but this will be my first one for sure as it's the only one on my TBT. Bought it in NY when I was there in June. So glad you approve of it :)

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Alex - I hope you like it!

B said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed this novel and that it contributed to your trip! It's my favorite Auster I've read to date.

Kate said...

Hey Melissa, just wanted to let you know I linked this post in my "Friday Five" over at Kate's Library this week. Have a great weekend!

Katrina said...

I think this was the first Auster book which I read and I loved it. The smart chat and humour of some of the characters reminded me so much of Glasgow, Scotland and believe me that's a good thing!

Mumsy said...

I just finished this one and although I liked the Story, I felt that familiar ennui I get with literary fiction...lots of guys who are feeling defeated sexually, lots of two-dimensional female characters only viewed thru the lens of their sexuality. It always astounds me how much of the criticism leveled at "chick lit" COULD be leveled at this sort of fiction - but never is.

(But I still liked the story. I am a mass of contradictions.)

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Brenna - Mine too.

Kate - Thanks Kate!

Katrina - Yes, the dialogue was my favorite part.

Mumsy - I can understand that, but I didn't feel like all the women were that way. Nathan's ex-wife and the artist Tom has a crush on were, but I loved Lucy's character. I've definitely had that problem with other authors though, like Philip Roth. I love your point about "chick lit" that's so true!