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4 3 2 1: A Novel Hardcover – January 31, 2017
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The Amazon Book Review
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An Amazon Best Book of February 2017: Paul Auster’s 4321 is his first novel in seven years, and it feels extra personal. Details of a life spent growing up in Brooklyn—of loving the Brooklyn Dodgers, Laurel and Hardy, summer camp—are laid out with the earnest intensity of a writer looking back on his life. Plot points arise—for instance, a person is killed by lightning—which mimic more unique moments from Auster’s own life experience. At nearly 900 pages, it is also a long novel—but a reason for that is 4321 tells the story of its protagonist, Archie Ferguson, four different times. What remains consistent throughout Archie’s life (or lives) is that his father starts out with the same career, Archie falls in love with the same girl, and his personality seems more nature than nurture. But those are starting off points, and if our lives are the sum of our choices, they are the sum of other people’s choices as well. Circumstances matter, and what will keep you thinking about this book is the convergence of time and circumstance within each of Archie’s different lives. His past propels him, his circumstances form him, and regardless of which life we are reading, time will ultimately take him. --Chris Schluep, The Amazon Book Review
“An epic bildungsroman . . . . Original and complex . . . . It’s impossible not to be impressed – and even a little awed – by what Auster has accomplished. . . . A work of outsize ambition and remarkable craft,a monumental assemblage of competing and complementary fictions, a novel that contains multitudes.”―Tom Perrotta, The New York Times Book Review
“Ambitious and sprawling . . . . Immersive . . . . Auster has a startling ability to report the world in novel ways.”―USA Today
“A stunningly ambitious novel, and a pleasure to read. Auster’s writing is joyful even in the book’s darkest moments, and never ponderous or showy. . . . An incredibly moving, true journey.”―NPR
“Sharply observed . . . . Reads like a sprawling, 19th-century novel.”―The Wall Street Journal
“Ingenious . . . . Structurally inventive and surprisingly moving. . . . 4 3 2 1 reads like [a] big social drama . . . while also offering the philosophical exploration of one man’s fate.”―Esquire
“Mesmerizing . . . Continues to push the narrative envelope. . . . Four distinct characters whose lives diverge and intersect in devious, rollicking ways, reminiscent of Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life. . . . Prismatic and rich in period detail, 4 3 2 1 reflects the high spirits of postwar America as well as the despair coiled, asplike, in its shadows.”―O, the Oprah Magazine
“The power of [Auster’s] best work is . . . his faithful pursuit of the mission proposed in The Invention of Solitude, to explore the ‘infinite possibilities of a limited space’ . . . . The effect [of 4 3 2 1] is almost cubist in its multidimensionality―that of a single, exceptionally variegated life displayed in the round. . . . [An] impressively ambitious novel.”―Harper’s Magazine
“Auster’s magnificent new novel is reminiscent of Invisible in that it deals with the impossibility of containing a life in a single story . . . . Undeniably intriguing . . . . A mesmerizing chronicle of one character’s four lives . . . The finest―though one hopes, far from final―act in one of the mightiest writing careers of the last half century.”―Paste Magazine
“Wonderfully clever . . . . 4 3 2 1 is much more than a piece of literary gamesmanship . . . . It is a heartfelt and engaging piece of storytelling that unflinchingly explores the 20thcentury American experience in all its honor and ignominy. This is, without doubt, Auster’s magnum opus. . . . A true revelation . . . One can’t help but admit they are in the presence of a genius.”―Toronto Star
“A multitiered examination of the implications of fate . . . in which the structure of the book reminds us of its own conditionality. . . . A signifier of both possibility and its limitations.”―The Washington Post
“At the heart of this novel is a provocative question: What would have happened if your life had taken a different turn at a critical moment? . . . Ingenious.”―Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“Auster presents four lovingly detailed portrayals of the intensity of youth – of awkwardness and frustration, but also of passion for books, films, sport, politics and sex. . . . [Trying] to think of comparisons [to the novel] . . . [nothing] is exactly right . . . . What he is driving at is not only the role of contingency and the unexpected, but the ‘what-ifs’ that haunt us, the imaginary lives we hold in our minds that run parallel to our actual existence.”―The Guardian
“Draws the reader in from the very first sentence and does not let go until the very end. . . . An absorbing, detailed account – four accounts! – of growing up in the decades following World War II. . . . Auster’s prose is never less than arresting .. . . In addition to being a bildungsroman, “4321” is a “künstlerroman,” a portrait of the artist as a young man whose literary ambition is evident even in childhood. . . . I emerged from . . . this prodigious book eager for more.”―San Francisco Chronicle
“Leaves readers feeling they know every minute detail of [Ferguson’s] inner life, as if they were lifelong companions and daily confidants. . . . It’s like an epic game of MASH: Will Ferguson grow up in Montclair or Manhattan? Excel in baseball or basketball? Date girls or love boys too? Live or die? . . . A detailed landscape . . . for readers who like taking the scenic route.”―TIME Magazine
“Auster pays tribute to what Rose Ferguson thinks of as a ‘dear, dirty, devouring New York, the capital of human faces, the horizontal Babel of human tongues.’. . . Sprawling . . . occasionally splendid.”―The New Yorker
“43 2 1 is that rarest of books - a masterpiece by a genius. . .. Auster’s first novel in seven years is nothing short of true literature. It is why we read.”―Newark Star Ledger
?“Magnificently conceived . . . . Auster is a peerless storyteller . . . .4 3 2 1 is also a brilliant compendium of the tumultuous 1960s . . . . Impressively smooth . . . . The development and mingling of four versions of Archie Ferguson not only illuminate and enhance his character, it gives the storytelling the power of enchantment that sustains the reader through the length of the book.”―Seattle Times
“A bona fide epic . . . both accessible and formally daring.”―Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Inventive, engrossing.”―St. Louis Post-Dispatch
“Arresting .. . . A hugely accomplished work, a novel unlike any other.”―The National (UAE)
“Brilliantly rendered,intricately plotted . . . a magnum opus.”―Columbia Magazine
“Auster’s first novel in seven years is . . . . an ingenious move . . . . Auster’s sense of possibility, his understanding of what all his Fergusons have in common, with us and one another, is a kind of quiet intensity, a striving to discover who they are. . . . [He] reminds us that not just life, but also narrative is always conditional, that it only appears inevitable after the fact.”―Kirkus (starred review)
“Auster has been turning readers’ heads for three decades, bending the conventions of storytelling . . . . He now presents his most capacious, demanding, eventful, suspenseful, erotic, structurally audacious, funny, and soulful novel to date . . . [a] ravishing opus.”―Booklist (starred review)
“Rich and detailed. It’s about accidents of fate, and the people and works of art and experiences that shape our lives even before our birth―what reader doesn't vibrate at that frequency?”―Lydia Kiesling, Slate
“Auster illuminates how the discrete moments in one’s life form the plot points of a sprawling narrative, rife with possibility.”―Library Journal (starred review)
“Mesmerizing . . . . A wonderful work of realist fiction and well worth the time.”―Read it Forward
“Frisky and sinuous . . . energetic. . . . A portrait of a cultural era coming into being . . . the era that is our own.”―Tablet magazine
“Almost everything about Auster's new novel is big. . . Satisfyingly rich in detail . . . . A significant and immersive entry to a genre that stretches back centuries and includes Augie March and Tristram Shandy.”―Publishers Weekly
Top customer reviews
4 3 2 1 is an ambitious work that absolutely experiments with style and execution. It is extremely well written, meticulously organized, and clearly a labor of love. This is an important novel due to its sheer moxie; it not only challenges well-established conventions in the field of literature, it summarily ignores them.
But, even with all of that being said, it missed the mark for me. At 866 pages, 4 3 2 1 proved too much for this reader. As you know, Auster is an avid baseball fan, and I definitely felt like I needed a scorecard for this epic volume.
Without spoiling too much, this novel imagines the four possible lives of a single man. We follow him from boyhood all the way to death. There are many touchstones that are obviously invariable from life to life, but there are also several deviations that alter one life drastically from another. It's a fascinating premise, one that we've all thought about from time to time. What if my parents had separated? What if I'd chosen a different school? What if I had fallen into that pit and been paralyzed? So many "what ifs" in life ... Auster delves deeply into this notion while leaving no detail unexplored.
But, like Annie Proulx's Barkskins, those nuanced details can overwhelm the reader to the point of provoking disengagement. At least, that's what happened in my case.
Furthermore, if I'm being honest, Ferguson (the main character) is not especially interesting. No matter which life we address, Ferguson is a bit aloof, a bit too precocious, a bit unlikable. Well, perhaps "unlikable" is too strong of a word. I would never describe him as "likable," though. Keep in mind, I don't believe a character has to be "good" in the moral sense to be "likable." There have been plenty of "bad" characters that I thought were incredibly charismatic.
On the subject of morality, be warned ... there is a lot of sex in this book -- more than any Paul Auster book I've ever read. There is straight sex, gay sex, committed sex, casual sex, oral sex, anal sex ... you get the idea. The sex often seemed to me as forced. It never quite struck me as organic to the story.
While I found this to be a relevant addition to the author's library because it broke new ground for an already inventive artist, it did not hold my attention. While the writing is masterful, it failed to capture my imagination. And while the characters are pounding with life, none of them seemed to take hold in my own.
Which is not to say I always enjoyed it - I think this is five stars as an author's vision. At no point did I doubt this was exactly what Paul Auster wanted to present. But - it is 880 pages, and boy did I feel it. And about page 450 I felt it did slow down - it got less interesting the older Archie Ferguson became and he became embroiled in what you'd expect of someone in his early 20s. The writing is very, very dense - Auster is determined to describe every breath of his main character. As I said, that feels like a throwback to the dense, deep styles of an earlier time - so I respect it, even if I didn't love it.
As for the book's central idea - the four "lives" of Ferguson - I liked it and at the end I understood the point (actually, I understood the point about halfway through, maybe earlier). What hinges do all our lives turn on? Is there one choice that someone else makes that turned it all on our head and sends us down one path instead of another? Probably - so Auster has examined that good luck/bad luck dynamic. I was less satisfied with how he tied all these plots together - I guess he had to end the book, but I felt slightly cheated at the end. On the other hand, I was also happy it was over.
As you can tell, I felt two ways about this book - five stars for epic scope and writer's vision and stamina, and often three stars for my actual experience. I think a specific audience will LOVE this book - those who can buy into the pure density of this story. An audience who likes breezy page-turners will HATE this book - actually, not hate it, they won't even be able to read it. I have not read anything by Auster before - but I was attracted by the 880-pages because I do like epic books. I assume those familiar with Auster would probably know what they're getting into.
Bottom line - giving this less than four stars is a disservice, but I can't nearly give it five. But I can see the writer's work and ambition in literally every word of every tightly-packed page. The story did what he wanted.
The theme (not unlike Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life) is reimagined lives and the sense of possibility. Archibald Isaac Ferguson’s choices in his life will lead to four different lives and outcomes. Every twist and turn of life in Auster’s world is significant; every nuance can transform a life and lead to a different storyline. Those turns might hinge on luck, or fortune, or historical events, or our own choices and determinations.
The book will particularly resonate with Boomers (the plot takes us from 1947 through 1971). For those who admire epic and sprawling novels that dig deep into its themes, this is a worthy read.