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Will the real author please stand up?

September 23, 2008

Private Investigator.  The P. I.   Private eye, private I.   Kafka the gumshoe in a hall of mirrors.   Say what?  I dunno.  I’m just sayin’.

Who wrote this book?  Of course, Paul Auster did, but throughout The New York Trilogy somebody named Paul Auster makes appearances as a character and that somebody is probably the narrator of The Locked Room section of the book.  Paul Auster (who?…a character) has a conversation with Quinn, the main character of the City of Glass segment about Don Quixote (of all things) and identity.  Here’s Paul Auster speaking:

“What better portrait of a writer than to show a man who has been bewitched by books?  The origins of Don Quixote—Cervantes goes to great lengths to convince the reader that he is not the author.  The book, he says, was written in Arabic by Cid Hamete Benengeli. Cervantes describes how he discovered the manuscript by chanced one day in the market at Toledo.  He hires someone to translate it for him into Spanish, and there after he presents himself as no more than the editor of the translation.”

Authorship.  If I look one way, I’ll see Auster writing this, but if I look another way, bouncing off some slippery mirror, I don’t.  Then a new narrative voice appears, like Cervantes the Editor:

“Since this story is based entirely on facts, the author feels it his duty not to overstep the bounds of the verifiable, to resist at all costs the perils of invention.  Even the red notebook, which until now has provided a detailed account of Quinn’s experiences, is suspect.  We cannot say for certain what happened to Quinn during this period, for it is at this point, in the story that he began to lose his grip.”

Auster the Author (the real one) gets away with it.  But I feel that the first two segments, City of Glass and Ghosts have different feels, colder, like a sleek Modernist black chair (perhaps a Mies Barcelona chair) on a hard stone floor in a cold white room.  The Locked Room supplies the reader with an actual Investigator (an I, or eye) that is appealing, mostly.  The first person narrator is, probably, Auster himself.  However, his target, quarry, nemesis is Fanshawe, who, sure looks a lot like Auster in his younger days.  A quick check of the real Paul Auster reveals things like: Columbia, then he shipped out on freighters.  As did Fanshawe.   He grew up in Jersey, close to NYC.  The death of Fanshawe’s father mirrors the death of Auster’s father.  Fanshawe’s wife Sophie from MN.  Auster’s wife Suri from MN.  The narrator marries Fanshawe’s wife Sophie when it’s evident he’s dead.  

Who’s looking for who?

Each story ends with either a sheaf of papers or, twice, a red notebook, written by somebody.  Auster, the real one, seems to be tossing a question onto the table like a little soft grenade.  Are words strong enough to contain identity?  Can a word hold me, without breaking?

Beckett would’ve liked that.

 

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