The Brooklyn Follies by Paul Auster
Okay, let me just say that I was wrong about Auster. Which isn’t to say that I now miraculously love The New York Trilogy (I don’t) or that I’m going to run out and reread the back-catalog (I’ve read plenty enough already, thank you), but he has definitely redeemed himself in my eyes with this book. It’s back to basics good-storytelling that calls to mind his screenplay for “Smoke.” He explores those serendipitous connections between people, how their joys and sorrows overlap, impinge, spark.
It’s about Nathan Glass, a retired insurance salesman who has made it through cancer and come to Brooklyn to die. But soon after he arrives in the borough he grew up in, he meets up with his long-lost nephew and an assortment of other characters that make his last years anything but quiet. Tom Wood, Nathan’s nephew, was once a literary scholar with promise, destined to academic greatness, but when Nathan finds him washed up and dejected at 30, working in a used bookshop, he knows he has to do something to rescue his nephew’s future. Add to this Harry, the intellectually sharp gay owner of the bookshop with a nefarious past, Tom’s delinquent, disappeared sister Aurora, Nancy, the B.P.M. (Beautiful Perfect Mother) that Tom dotes on from afar, and Nathan’s daughter Rachel with whom he is trying to make amends. Interspersed between these stories are Nathan’s collection of “follies,” the tragic, sometimes hilarious circumstances that occur in life that he assembles in an ever-growing manuscript.
In addition to the wonderful characters and stories in this book, I enjoyed the details. I lived in New England for a short time, and love little details that take me back to the East Coast: place names, New York idiosyncrasies (especially Brooklyn, my favorite borough), delis, and the distinctive accents, speech patterns and personalities those regions create. I also loved that they visit Vermont, a state that will always melt my heart because I spent such formative (college) years there.
In more ways that one, I did not want this book to end.