The Brooklyn Follies

Paul Auster, Author . Holt $24 (306p) ISBN 978-0-8050-7714-8

Nathan Glass, a retired life insurance salesman estranged from his family and facing an iffy cancer prognosis, is "looking for a quiet place to die. Someone recommended Brooklyn." What he finds, though, in this ebullient novel by Brooklyn bard Auster (Oracle Night ), is a vital, big-hearted borough brimming with great characters. These include Nathan's nephew, Tom, a grad student turned spiritually questing cab driver; Tom's serenely silent nine-year-old niece, who shows up on Tom's doorstep without her unstable mom; and a flamboyant book dealer hatching a scheme to sell a fraudulent manuscript of The Scarlet Letter . As Nathan recovers his soul through immersion in their lives, Auster meditates on the theme of sanctuary in American literature, from Hawthorne to Poe to Thoreau, infusing the novel's picaresque with touches of romanticism, Southern gothic and utopian yearning. But the book's presiding spirit is Brooklyn's first bard, Walt Whitman, as Auster embraces the borough's multitudes—neighborhood characters, drag queens, intellectuals manqué, greasy-spoon waitresses, urbane bourgeoisie—while singing odes to moonrise over the Brooklyn Bridge. Auster's graceful, offhand storytelling carries readers along, with enough shadow to keep the tale this side of schmaltz. The result is an affectionate portrait of the city as the ultimate refuge of the human spirit. (Jan.)

Reviewed on: 10/10/2005
Release date: 12/01/2005
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