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Sunset Park: A Novel Hardcover – November 9, 2010
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"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover,"" illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Pre-order today
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Luminous, passionate, expansive, an emotional tour de force
Sunset Park follows the hopes and fears of a cast of unforgettable characters brought together by the mysterious Miles Heller during the dark months of the 2008 economic collapse.
An enigmatic young man employed as a trash-out worker in southern Florida obsessively photographing thousands of abandoned objects left behind by the evicted families.
A group of young people squatting in an apartment in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.
The Hospital for Broken Things, which specializes in repairing the artifacts of a vanished world.
William Wyler's 1946 classic The Best Years of Our Lives.
A celebrated actress preparing to return to Broadway.
An independent publisher desperately trying to save his business and his marriage.
These are just some of the elements Auster magically weaves together in this immensely moving novel about contemporary America and its ghosts. Sunset Park is a surprising departure that confirms Paul Auster as one of our greatest living writers.
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Miles Heller is fairly directionless. Seven years ago he dropped out of college and stepped out of his parents' lives; since then, he has drifted around the country without any real plans. While living in Florida and working on a crew that empties foreclosed homes, he meets Pilar, a wise-beyond-her-years high school senior, and the two fall in love. Running afoul of Pilar's older sister, Miles flees back to his native New York until Pilar's 18th birthday. In New York, he joins his old friend, Bing, and two others as they squat in an abandoned house in Brooklyn's Sunset Park neighborhood. Miles uses the return home as an opportunity to reconnect with his parents and mentor Pilar from afar, while each of his housemates struggles with their own self-discoveries, and his father, Morris, deals with his own shaky marriage and his fears of mortality.
While the book starts out being narrated by Miles alone, after a point his voice is joined by those of his housemates and both of his parents, publisher Morris and actress Mary-Lee. Each has a unique viewpoint and each character occupies their own space with their own unique voice. I found this book tremendously compelling and thought-provoking, as it was both about big and small ideas. This is a story about relationships, self-confidence (and the lack thereof), discovering your true self, baseball and seizing opportunities that come your way. I found the ending a little too melodramatic and predictable, but it also left me to imagine what the next steps would be in the characters' lives. So good to see Paul Auster back on track again!!
In "Sunset Park" there is the usual alienated protagonist - 28 years old Miles Heller, who lives the life of a hermit, having abruptly cut all the ties to his prominent family of New York publishers. He managed to avoid all contact for seven years, quit college and lives a truly minimalistic life, moving a lot and doing odd physical jobs to sustain himself. When we meet him, he lives in Florida - but the one thing he has not predicted changes the order of things forever: Miles falls in love with a teenager, an extremely bright and ambitious high school girl, Pilar Sanchez. His relationship with a minor and its consequences force him to accept an offer from an old friend, Bing Nathan, to move back to Brooklyn and join the group of squatters occupying an abandoned house in the Sunset Park neighborhood (I wonder whether Auster was inspired by a real house... I bet he was). Now Miles is close to his family, and there is the question of reconciliation, making peace...
The book if full of anecdotes about the lives of football players and initially I felt it might put me off (as I know nothing of football and the names mean nothing to me), but I found myself following and thinking about the random parallels between the lives of the characters and the players. The stories were an integral part of the novel and in no way a distraction or a show-off.
In fact, everything mentioned in the novel has a role: it is not a random choice of "The Great Gatsby" for a book that brings Pilar and Miles together. It is important that Alice is doing her graduate work on the old Hollywood movies and chooses to focus on the particular one ("The Best Years of Our Lives"), obsessing with it, that Ellen in turn becomes obsessed with human body... Every detail is a piece of a puzzle, indispensable and fitting perfectly in its place.
Questions that come to mind after reading: is minimalist way of life more often than not an escape, not a choice of two equivalents?
And are people really unable to change their general direction in life? Is one tragedy a predictor of the further one, even if we desperately try to avoid them? Back to an old truism: is there anything that can be called bad or good luck that defines us?
Initially, for a moment, I was disappointed by the ending - but almost immediately I was grateful for it not being different. Paul Auster succeeded yet again in delivering very well constructed, complex, interesting, thoroughly modern novel.
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Miles Heller is really the central character in a book that often turns to other characters to tell...Read more