| Final destination
THE BROOKLYN FOLLIES
By Paul Auster, Faber, '10.99
The Brooklyn Follies is Paul Auster's latest novel. It tries to take a look at the darker side of contemporary American life. Since the novel talks about present times, it is twice as likely that it will be appreciated by readers, who would not have to try too hard to stretch their imagination to be a part of the fictional world. All the characters, events and places in this book appear too real for good.
The novel has the US election of 2000 as its backdrop, and ends minutes before the first plane crashes into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. The story is interesting, and the plot simple. 'I was looking for a quiet place to die,' begins the narrator of the story. 'Someone recommended Brooklyn, and so the next morning I traveled down there from Westchester to scope out the terrain...'
What the narrator finds in the new city is so inevitable that it calls for no intellectual exercise on the part of the reader. Things, it appears, just come the narrator's way. Auster, one gathers, is merely trying to keep the narrative simple and straightforward here.
The story revolves around two characters ' Uncle Nathan and his nephew, Tom. One is suffering from lung cancer, is divorced and even estranged from his only daughter. The other is young but isolated from society and life in general. In a sequence of strange coincidences, they meet each other in Brooklyn, a city of fast life and shady men. As expected, the two get caught in a web of events and circumstances they cannot defy or resist. It is not only that the past catches up with them; the present also seems to be overtaking them.
Nathan had wanted to die peacefully in his new surroundings. Instead, he finds himself surrounded by pulsating life. In a way, the novel is about life in all its assorted mixture. There is deception, crime and sex. Sex, in fact, plays a vital part in the novel, although it does not contribute much to the plot. Which is why it is somewhat irritating.
The story begins when Nathan settles down in Brooklyn, and Rachel, his married daughter, drives in from New Jersey to pay him a visit. She wants him to get involved in something, but Nathan rejects the proposal as he knows that his days are numbered. But eventually, he begins to write about the mistakes he had committed in his long career. When he has nothing to write about himself, he starts to write about the follies of others.
There is an array of characters in the novel. But except for Nathan, Tom, and, to some extent, Harry, Auster fails to bring most of his characters to life. Harry seems to commit too many mistakes for his own good, and pays with his life in the end. Tom tries to run away from life but falls for a schoolteacher. Then there is Lucy, a small girl who travels hundreds of miles to Brooklyn all by herself and adds to the confusion by not talking for days. When she does, it is hardly like a child. There is also Rufus Sprague, one of the assistants in Harry's bookstore, who suddenly becomes Tina Hott. There is Reverend Bob, who does the unthinkable with Nathan's niece, Aurora.
Auster talks of all kinds of love, and dreams of individuals who wish to live. He also shows the dark side of man, and his failure to come up to his own expectations. And yet, it is hardly the follies alone that one remembers at the end. Be that as it may, The Brooklyn Follies will hardly appeal to serious readers of fiction.