It's no wonder that Paul Auster (The Music of Chance, Leviathan, Mr. Vertigo
) creates such singular characters. While his youth comprised a series of failures too unbelievable for fiction, it also equipped him with a range of experiences to draw from that most fiction writers only dream of. He worked with Bowery bums at a summer camp, had a childhood friend join the Weather Underground, and was a student at Columbia in 1968 at the height of the student uprisings there (and at which point, he boasts, he knew seven of the FBI's ten most wanted men). He worked on an oil tanker, for a French Mafia-style film producer in Paris, and for a rare-book organization in New York. He translated the North Vietnamese constitution from French into English (don't ask). His work brought him in contact to varying extents with Jean Genet, Mary McCarthy, Jerzy Kosinski, Sartre, Foucault, and John Lennon. The encounters and experiences must have been fascinating, failure aside, but Auster's prose here, sadly, lacks the tightness and luster of his fiction. The remainder--and major portion--of the volume consists of three plays, a baseball card game, and a detective novel, all written during this time.
From Library Journal
Coming upon this "chronicle of early failure," readers of translator, poet, screenwriter, and novelist Auster (Mr. Vertigo, LJ 6/15/94) may be charmed by his new publisher's presentation though left puzzled by the derivative offerings. The work consists of one original, down-beat essay, "Hand to Mouth," a flat record of Auster's inauspicious early years struggling to make money while writing (the essay was recently excerpted in Granta), and three appendixes: a medley of Beckett-inspired plays, an "action baseball" card game that Auster was convinced would make his fortune, and a Chandleresque detective novel, "Squeeze Play"?all of which failed in one way or another when first created. Auster's collection of essays and reviews, The Art of Hunger (Sun & Moon, 1991), develop more fully and satisfactorily the author's literary development, while the appendixes here will interest few but devoted literary archivists.-?Amy Boaz, "Library Journal"
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