Listen to a reading from the "Overture" of The Brooklyn Follies, by Paul Auster himself:
So begins the story told by Nathan Glass, the clever narrator and friendly character of The Brooklyn Follies, in remission from cancer and alienated from his family. But as the experienced reader will guess, he is not to live the end of his life without experiencing familial redemption and striking odd acquaintances in the vicinity he has chosen: the very peculiar microcosm of Brooklyn. Indeed, as early as in the second chapter, Nathan comes across his nephew Tom Wood (significantly enough in a bookstore) whose brilliant mind he used to admire, before he lost sight of him: « I was certain he had landed a job at some prestigious place like Berkeley or Columbia - a young intellectual star already at work on his second or third book. Imagine my surprise, then, when I walked into Brightman's Attic that Tuesday morning in May and saw my nephew sitting behind the front counter, doling out change to a customer. » The two of them progressively discover that they haven't completely lost faith in life as they come up with the difficult but necessary task of rebuilding a new, composite family.
Nathan's original literary project of an exhaustive recollection of « verbal flubs, physical mishaps, failed ideas, social gaffes » committed by him and others, and to constitute The Book of Human Follies, is deferred by the necessity of writing the story of his own rebirth. The way is paved with what we recognize as recurrent motifs of Auster's postmodern metaphysics: so-called coincidences, odd analogies between fiction and reality, and encounters with marginal characters, which question the meaning of human existence and embed the story of the individual into the broader scope of American culture.
Even if this late work by Auster noticeably shifts towards realism and traditional novel writing, there remain the obsessions of the writer: literature is a fallacy (it is always suspected to be a hoax) and the literary object, the book, is material as well as intellectual. The world of the novel is constructed by the mind and filled with references to the classics: it is inherently intertextual. But the rational, academic system of analogies is put into question by odd filiations between writers.
The narrative voice escapes the diegesis to become that of the author of The Brooklyn Follies, who plays with the codes of narratology and the suspension of disbelief. The characters' broken dreams and fantasies are not less plausible than the situations in which they eventually find themselves. But to enjoy the novel to the end we should also take as a piece of advice the preliminary, « unintentionally profound » slip of the tongue that Nathan intends to put into The Book of Human Follies: « I'll see it when I believe it ».
Paul Auster, The Brooklyn Follies, Faber & Faber, London, 2005.