cover image Baumgartner


Paul Auster. Grove, $27 (208p) ISBN 978-0-8021-6144-4

Auster (The Brooklyn Follies) offers a profound character study of a man whose advancing years are shaped by mourning and memory. Sy Baumgartner is a 70-year-old philosophy professor at Princeton who, at the novel’s outset, has spent the past decade grieving his beloved wife Anna’s death in a swimming accident. Though he attends to a banal domestic routine, writes scholarly books, and even proposes marriage to a divorced colleague, Sy is so surrounded by effects of his old life with Anna (including manuscripts of her poetry, a book of which he shepherded into print posthumously) and so steeped in his reminiscences of her that at one point he becomes convinced she’s called him over a long-ago disconnected phone line to assure him “that the living and the dead are connected, and to be as deeply connected as they were when she was alive can continue even in death.” Sy lives simultaneously in both the present and the past, and Auster navigates these two narrative tracks nimbly: an uncovered box of Anna’s postgraduate papers leads to a reverie about her and Sy’s courtship decades earlier; a present-day moment of absentmindedness conjures recollections of Sy’s multigenerational family. The effect builds to a beautiful approximation of memory’s fluidity and allure. This is one to savor. (Nov.)