Book 29: Sunset Park by Paul Auster
Few American authors writing today have as distinctive a voice as Paul Auster.
His writing is strange yet deeply illuminating. He uses metafiction, exposing the fictional illusion as characters become aware that they are characters or dream of characters that take over the story; absurdism, in one novel his protagonist was a dog; existentialism, magical realism and other creative elements to explore our search for personal meaning and identity.
In Sunset Park, his newest novel, Auster dispenses with many of the techniques that have characterized his earlier works. Sunset Park is more straightforward in its novelistic approach, making it more accessible to readers unfamiliar with Auster's unusual style and yet it's exploration of the human condition is no less illuminating or insightful than his earlier novels.
Sunset Park is primarily the story of Miles Heller. Experiencing deep feelings of guilt and grief over his role in the death of his step-brother, Miles has fled his past life. He has dropped out of college and has not had any contact with his mother or father for more than seven years.
Events conspire to force Miles' return to New York. A return that he knows means that his self-imposed exile is at an end. Miles reunites with an old friend and takes up residence with the friend and two young woman in an abandoned house in Sunset Park.
Auster explores the interior lives of all four inhabitants of the house in Sunset Park as well as Miles' mother and father. Never interested in just the surface of things, Auster peers deep into each person's life, producing a work of substance and insight.
If there is a shortcoming to Sunset Park, and this is a quibble only, it is that the story ends with so many questions unanswered. Sunset Park demands an encore, both because it is such a commanding performance by Auster and because there is so much more we, as readers, want to know about the lives of these characters.