Friday, June 20, 2008

Don Winslow

A relatively pointless post here, but as it is my birthday and this is my blog, I'll do what I want!

Just wanted to give a shout out to my main man Don Winslow - San Diego author, former Rhode Island resident, and really, really nice guy - I have to say, my favorite author to host for book signings. He's here with myself (on the right) and Steven (aka: "Stevesie"), my fellow pod-bot at the Wick and a a righteous member of the alternately named softball team "The Greatest Hits", "The Rainbow Shakers", "The Fighting Dan-tastics", or "The Flying Dodos". None of which has to do with Don Winslow. I bet he can crush the ball though....

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Man in the Dark by Paul Auster

Every time I read another Paul Auster novel now, I worry that I will miss the point again - he tends to either wow me with his labyrinthine narrative and descriptive prose (The New York Trilogy, The Book of Illusions, or Brooklyn Follies) or just leave me bewildered, let down, and bored (Oracle Night or Travels in the Scriptorium). It seems that every other book is great for me, while the ones in between just leave me flat. Thankfully, Man in the Dark comes in the wake of the baffling, disjointed Travels in the Scriptorium.

In his typical fashion, there are many layers to the narrative in Man in the Dark - retired book critic, August Brill, is recovering from a car accident in his daughter's house in Vermont. Truly a house of suffering, Brill has recently lost his wife of forty years, while his daughter has gone through a messy divorce and the boyfriend of his granddaughter has been brutally murdered. Understandably suffering from insomnia, Brill keeps his mind alert while in his darkened bedroom by creating a fictional narrative in his head. In this story, Owen Brick finds himself transported to an alternate universe in which September 11th never happened, but where there is a civil war ripping the United States apart. Owen learns that there is a man in Vermont who is creating the civil war and all its scenarios inside his head - as a fictional narrative, without even realizing it. Owen is tasked with killing this man to end the war - a difficult mission for a pacifistic man lost in the fabric of time, to be sure, and one that brings the story around, full circle, back to Brill, the "man in the dark". In the hours before dawn, Brill abandons the narrative (when Owen's mission is irreconcilably derailed) and is joined in the dark by his grieving granddaughter. We learn that her boyfriend, who had been working as a truck driver for a contracting company, was kidnapped and brutally murdered in Iraq. Thus the narrative swings back again - to the subject of war - grounded in reality.

It is just that - a fictional meditation on the realities of war. And through the maze of narration, I got the sense that Auster's point is that no matter the circumstances, war is an unnecessary evil - an evil that need not be, yet does exist in very real fashion. Whether in a parallel universe where New York secedes from the Union due to the 2000 election (a pleasant fiction, in many ways) or in the midst of the madness that is the Iraq War, the pain caused by the actions of war are unparalleled and cannot be altered by any one man. Unless he be the creator...then which is the reality and which is the parallel universe in all this? There is some truth even to the science fiction storyline - a war created by a man disconnected from reality, with no real sense of the consequences of his actions. Could this be the root of the war we are currently enmeshed in? Some dude making it all up in his head? A stretch, I know, but a scenario worth toying with, at least for the purposes of good fiction.

It is good fiction, although I can't pretend to understand all the intricacies of the complex narrative. Auster certainly offers more than your average novelist - you are always engaged in deep thought, trying to parse out the layers of the novelistic onion before you. Maybe I don't actually "get" all of the elements to this story - novels about war and the current state of the world are always rife with innuendo and double meanings. But I am certain that it is an anti-war novel - I'm smart enough to recognize that. And for that, it is worth the read.