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Man in the Dark: A Novel Hardcover – August 19, 2008

3.8 out of 5 stars 75 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Auster, a man of diverse creative achievements, defies convenient labels with regard to genre and the divisions between literary fiction and the mainstream popular marketplace. Given his experiences with such multimedia endeavors as National Public Radio's Story Project, it's not surprising that Auster has a flair for dramatic narration when performing his own work. As he gives voice to ailing retired book critic August Brill, Auster milks the story-within-a-story structure to full effect. Impatient listeners may wonder exactly where this disparate tale of revisionist history, war, marital disappointments and grief might be headed. But with the nuanced—yet palpable—use of inflection, Auster compels his audience to await the twists and turns. As an invalid with an active imagination and time on his hands, Brill makes his frailties tangible and emotionally compelling without descending into full-blown pathos. A Henry Holt hardcover (Reviews, May 26). (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From The New Yorker

A car accident and the death of his wife have left the retired book critic August Brill a physical and spiritual invalid. Virtually confined to his house with his recently divorced daughter and a twenty-three-year-old grandchild stricken with grief after the murder of her ex-boyfriend, Brill, an insomniac, attempts to stave off thoughts of death by telling himself bedtime stories. His tired mind weaves a tale that combines details of his life with more fantastic flights'such as the story of a man who, waking up in an alternate universe where 9/11 never happened and the 2000 election led to civil war, is sent on a mission to destroy the very person who has imagined him into existence. The narrative juxtapositions and the riddling starkness of Auster's prose create an absorbing if mildly scattershot effect, breathing life into a meditation on the difference between the stories we want to tell and the stories we end up telling.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 180 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.; First Edition edition (August 19, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805088393
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805088397
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (75 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,141,231 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Quite a few of Auster's novels have a surreal quality. Man in the Dark does too. In this case, it's an almost science fictional scenario - an alternate America where civil war has broken out and the United States has become the Disunited States.

This imagined world exists only in the mind of August Brill, an elderly man (in the real world) lying in bed recovering from an accident that has left him immobile. There's an interesting recursive aspect to the alternate America scenario (which I won't elaborate on here for fear of giving away the plot) that adds a further surreal dimension to the story. Brill's imaginary excursions into this parallel world are interspersed with comparatively mundane real world scenes that begin to paint a picture of his views, his life and his family.

The parallel reality aspect of the story ends about two thirds of the way through the book, which is a shame because I found the whole concept quite fascinating and very entertaining. Most of the rest of the book consists of a discussion between Brill and his granddaughter Katya in which Brill recounts the story of his marriage and Katya grapples with guilt over the death in Iraq of her former boyfriend who was kidnapped and murdered by terrorists.

For me, America's military involvement in Iraq is the major theme of the book. In Brill's alternate reality, the Twin Towers remain standing and America does not go to war in Iraq. Instead, it self-destructs. In the real world, American soldiers die fighting and others (like Katya's boyfriend) die simply because they're Americans in the wrong place at the wrong time.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
First, I've read every non-poetry book Paul Auster's written, and I admire many of his books. However, the last few novels (from Timbuktu through Travels in the Scriptorium) have slipped in quality and depth and originality. Man in the Dark is a slight improvement, in terms of originality, but lacks any real depth, and at times is as cloying and sentimental - and downright cheesy - as a romance novel. A middle-aged novelist with as much experience as Auster should be at the top of his game, should be a fount of profundity, but sadly he hasn't had any fresh ideas since Leviathan. Complaining about the political state of America, however well you mask it in fiction, is not profound, it's what makes the news - print and TV - unwatchable; it's as easy as breathing when you are asleep.

Man in the Dark centers on August Brill, a 72-year-old ex-critic who has a shattered leg, from a car accident, and a shattered life, from, well, living life. He's recovering in the Vermont home of his daughter and granddaugher who themselves are both suffering from emotional downturns. To get through the painful, insomniac nights, Brill imagines a fictional storyline in which the protagonist, Owen Brick (such an Auster name), is torn from his life in Queens to an alternate history of America where the so-called Blue States are at war with the so-called Red states, a war that began after the 2000 election; and in this world the Twin Towers where never attacked. Foolish? Of course. However, this alter-fiction provides most of the intrigue and the best writing in the book (I won't spoil the plot), but it's cut off abruptly, right when it would have gotten very interesting, at a point when a writer like Borges (to whom Auster is much in debt here) would take it to a new level.
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Format: Hardcover
August Brill, a former Pulitzer Prize-winning literary critic, now a depressed widower confined to a wheelchair, spends much of each night lying awake, thinking about his life and creating stories to keep himself amused. Living with his divorced daughter Miriam and his granddaughter Katya in Brattleboro, Vermont, August has made no progress at all writing his book, a memoir he hopes to leave to posterity. Instead he watches films with his granddaughter, analyzing how filmmakers use objects as symbols to convey human emotions.

Each person in the novel is "in the dark," searching for identity and the meaning of life and love, but each is also trying to reconcile his/her present life with the accidents of his own history. The death of August's wife, and his own accident, have left him dependent on Miriam. Miriam's abandonment by her husband has left her vulnerable and responsible for the household, and Katya, his granddaughter, is almost paralyzed from the death of her lover, feeling that she did not love him enough. All feel like failures.

This absurdist novel gains excitement--and its main plot--each night when August, sleepless, invents characters living different kinds of lives in an alternative reality--one so close to our own reality that its plausibility becomes frightening. In his stories, August has flashed back to the year 2000, in which the Presidential election led to riots and the demand to abolish the Electoral College. Eventually New York, New England, and nine states in the Midwest, seceded, precipitating the Second Civil War, against President George Bush and the Federals.

The novel opens with Owen Brick, a young man dressed in fatigues, trapped in a deep hole, unable to escape.
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