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Mr. Vertigo Hardcover – August 1, 1994

3.6 out of 5 stars 42 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

It will come as no surprise to the gifted Auster's ( Moon Palace ; The Music of Chance ) many fans that walking on air, the implausible premise of his marvelously whimsical seventh novel, is treated with convincing gravity. Walt Rawley recounts his life: an orphan born in 1924 with "the gift," he was seized by his master, Mr. Yehudi, a Hungarian Jew who taught him to levitate. Yehudi takes the boy from St. Louis to his own Kansas menage, which consists of Mother Sioux and Aesop, a young black genius. (Also influencing Walt's life is classy, henna-headed Marion Witherspoon, a seductive mom figure from Wichita.) After harsh training, Walt tours with his mentor as "the Wonder Boy," aka Mr. Vertigo. Crammed into this road saga is the potent Americana of myth: the 1920s carnival circuit, Lindbergh's solo, the motorcar, the ethnic mix, the Ku Klux Klan and the Mob, baseball and Kansas, "land of Oz." Diverse mishaps descend, but eventually Walt glides into old age and writing. The characters speak a lusty lingo peppered with vintage slang, while a postmodern authorial irony tugs their innocence askew. The prose grows particularly electric when demystifying "loft and locomotion." Implicit is an analogy between levitation and the construct of fiction: both require fierce discipline to maintain a fleeting illusion.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Rescued from the streets of St. Louis and taught to fly by Master Yehudi, Walter Rawley soon becomes a national sensation. The boy wonder foils a kidnapping by his evil uncle, but his powers of levitation suddenly wane with the onset of puberty, and he declines from miracle worker to Depression-era mobster. Auster provides a dazzling display of narrative power, but his story remains a metaphysical muddle. Fluctuating between the fabulous and the mundane, it establishes no firm foundation in either realm. If Yehudi's mysterious powers are real, why must his wards die in a Klan lynching and why must Yehudi himself resort to suicide? If the alleged powers are spurious and Auster's aging narrator is unreliable, the extent of his unreliability needs sharper definition. Auster's previous novel, Leviathan (LJ 7/92), is a much more absorbing study of the elusiveness of truth.
Albert E. Wilhelm, Tennessee Technological Univ., Cookeville
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult; 1st American ed edition (August 1, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670852090
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670852093
  • Product Dimensions: 20 x 20 x 20 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,343,553 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Paul Auster is the bestselling author of Travels in the Scriptorium, The Brooklyn Follies, and Oracle Night. I Thought My Father Was God, the NPR National Story Project anthology, which he edited, was also a national bestseller. His work has been translated into thirty languages. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Paul Auster is usually a steadfastly metaphysical writer, procuring post-modern ideas from his books with the regularity of an oil derrick. He's usually so preoccupied with the subtext of his works that the universes he creates come off as nondescript and inconsequential, and his prose remains, well, austere. The purpose of this preamble is to prepare you for the marked departure that is "Mr. Vertigo".
The universe here is quite definite: America in the early twentieth century. The prose is decidedly un-austere. Auster attempts to authentically capture the lingo and rhythms of the 1920s and 1930s. Either that, or he has created a grand parody of the way people spoke. Either way, the dialogue here is colourful, flavourful, but sometimes peculiar. Paul may have bit off more than he can chew. Examples such referring to St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Dizzy Dean as 'The Dizmeister' try and inject style into corners where style isn't needed. Was the name Dizzy not interesting enough? A minor quibble, that. (Dean also serves as an analogy-within-analogy; his meteoric rise and fall rivals that of our protagonist.) For the most part Auster has a grand command of the language he uses.
But all this does not deny the fact that this book is still a pretty powerful analogy. It is a picaresque, following the adventures of Walter Claireborne Rawley, a.k.a., Walt the Wonder Boy. Rescued from a scamp's life by the mysterious Master Yehudi, Walt is taught to fly. This curious skill -- the only piece of Auster-esque magic in a book that takes great pains to mimic its reality -- takes them on adventures all over the country. And herein lies the analogy. As Walt's powers and fame grows, so to do those of the young country on the verge of its own modern breakthroughs.
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In his book "Mr. Vertigo" Auster once again reveals an incredible talent. A talent for painting a picture with the same clarity with which he writes. In a very real sense, this book is an alleghorical story of most all human life. To summarize his message, it seems he is telling us this:

1) You are born and childhood is mystical, magical, and all things seem possible.
2) You hit puberty, and life is turned a little upside down from what it was before.
3) You recover from the shock and go on and build a life.
4) Somewhere in the process of building this life, something happens and life itself again gets twisted on its head.
5) You rebuild your life.
6) You hope you retire in peace.
While the meaning of the alleghory is poignant, the manner that Auster paints the picture contains even more virtuosity. The story starts very whimsically, with a sense of magic. And then, as usual, there is clearly a lose of innocence, and an experiencing of multiple severe personal tragedies.
These tragedies ultimately lead his protagonist onto the next phases of his life, as they do with most people. And in each phase, he rebuilds that life. And often, because of factors that have nothing to do with his own actions or beliefs, that world is destroyed, and sometimes it is destroyed, because of his actions and beliefs, but each time, he rebuilds, he realizes that he is rebuilding a better life, than the one before.
Auster displays his usual incredible sensitivity and insight. He lays out the mental processes with great aplomb. And he takes the reader through an experience that in many ways, the reader is able to use as an analogy for their own life.
This book is one of Auster's classics and all Auster fans should not miss the opportunity to read it.
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Format: Paperback
I am a little ashamed that I have not previously read any of Paul Auster's work. He is best known for Leviathan, but Mr. Vertigo has been sitting on my shelf for months, begging to be read.

I finally caved in, and discovered that I have been ignoring a fabulous book!
Fabulous? Explain, Please
Well first of all, the plot is a doozy. Our main character is Walt, soon to be known as "Walt the Wonder Boy". He is an orphan living with his aunt and uncle in Chicago. The year is 1927. He is a little rapscallion of a boy, panhandling and working the street the best way he knew how. He is coarse, uneducated, racist, and all around unpleasant.
One day, a mysterious figure named Master Yehudi walks into Walt's life. He forces him to make a choice, to follow him and learn how to fly, or to stay in Chicago where is really isn't wanted anyway. He promises that if he can't teach Walt how to fly in 2 years time, Walt can chop his head off. Now that's a deal.
So what is any self-respecting ragamuffin to do? You take a shot at the big time. Maybe we should ask Horatio Alger, just to be on the safe side. What could be more American?
Walt travels with Master Yehudi, into the great unknown.
The story progresses from there, You get the picture?
The characters of the book are remarkable in many aspects. Although Walt is such a repugnant character at first, this leaves him plenty of room to grow into a wonderful adult. Does he do this? Kind of.
Master Yehudi is a very multi-faceted individual. One one level he is very self serving. On yet another, he cares so much about the people around him, that it almost destroys him. He knows the meaning of sacrifice. He knows about love.
Ms. Witherspoon is Master Yehudi's romantic interest. She too is multilayered.
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