Paul Auster tackles homelessness in America using a dog as his point-of-view character. Strange as the premise seems, it's been done before, in John Berger's King
, and it actually works. Filtering the homeless experience through the relentlessly unsentimental eye of a dog, both writers avoid miring their tales in an excess of melodrama. Whereas Berger's book skips among several characters, Timbuktu
remains tightly focused on just two: Mr. Bones, "a mutt of no particular worth or distinction," and his master, Willy G. Christmas, a middle-aged schizophrenic who has been on the streets since the death of his mother four years before. The novel begins with Willy and Mr. Bones in Baltimore searching for a former high school English teacher who had encouraged the teenage Willy's writerly aspirations. Now Willy is dying and anxious to find a home for both his dog and the multitude of manuscripts he has stashed in a Greyhound bus terminal. "Willy had written the last sentence he would ever write, and there were no more than a few ticks left in the clock. The words in the locker were all he had to show for himself. If the words vanished, it would be as if he had never lived."
Paul Auster is a cerebral writer, preferring to get to his reader's gut through the brain. When Willy dies, he goes out on a sea of words; as for Mr. Bones, this is a dog who can think about metaphysical issues such as the afterlife--referred to by Willy as "Timbuktu":
What if no pets were allowed? It didn't seem possible, and yet Mr. Bones had lived long enough to know that anything was possible, that impossible things happened all the time. Perhaps this was one of them, and in that perhaps hung a thousand dreads and agonies, an unthinkable horror that gripped him every time he thought about it.
Once Willy dies and Mr. Bones is on his own, things go from bad to worse as the now masterless dog faces a series of betrayals, rejections, and disappointments. By stepping inside a dog's skin, Auster is able to comment on human cruelties and infrequent kindnesses from a unique world view. But reader be warned: the world in Timbuktu
is a bleak one, and even the occasional moments of grace are short lived. --Alix Wilber
From Library Journal
Meet discerning and sympathetic Mr. Bones, a dog who is unconditionally faithful to his troubled master, Willy G. Christmas. Auster's leading human character is once again a tormented writer from Brooklyn who blindly believes in his ideals and willingly chooses to become a vagabond (see, for instance, Leviathan, LJ 7/92). But the real hero is the four-legged creature who follows him on his impromptu journeys and leads readers through the story. Yes, he thinks and he understands, and although he cannot speak, he keenly observes and contemplates the questionable logic of human behavior. The beginning of the story is promising; the middle gets suspiciously trivial but is rescued by a clever and moving ending. This is not the kind of work Auster has been praised for, but it proves his hunger for innovation once again. Timbuktu will undoubtedly provoke mixed responses, but that is the price of originality. There is something plain yet mysteriously intricate beneath Auster's trademark smooth writing.-AMirela Roncevic, "Library Journal"
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