Top critical review
Terrible novel carried forward only by skillful and precise writing
on April 17, 2017
Paul Auster is a master literary craftsman. Like a Pied Piper, he can magically pull the reader along with skillful and precise writing and story telling. However, his novel Sunset Park which I finished reading is terrible. These are my reasons: It is unfocused, has no clear thematic core, is overindulgent in its observations about the major characters. Auster also is more than occasionally trying to educate the reader about subjects oblique to his story which the seems to care about, love and has personal meaning for him, forgetting the reader may think otherwise. The novel is flawed by pointless digressions about old time baseball players who have died because the son Miles Heller and his father, Morris find their lives and fortunes similar to their own.
The main characters are seem to lead pointless lives of indecision and different degrees of failure. The main character is Miles Heller's M.O. He is not very ambitious and a wanderer despite having three years of Ivy league education under his belt. He is erudite and reads many books and offers insight and analysis of books, ideas and people when he chooses to speak. being somewhat introverted. He overhears an argument between his stepmother and father about his problems and lack of ambition. Frustrated with his life and family. he takes to the road at age 21 and lives in four different states eeking out a living with menial low paying jobs. He appears and identifies himself as a loser destined to fail at everything. He moves to Florida and acquire a jobs as a "trash out inspector" that empties foreclosed. houses of valuables left behind by former owners. He meets and fall in love with a 17 year high school student who becomes the great love of his life. Her name is Pilar Sanchez who he believes is intelligent and sharp witted, but offers no substantial proof of her intelligence except that, she reads books;. they actually meet in a local park where they both are reading the same book, "The Great Gatsby"
Unfortunately her sister is a greedy and jealous bitch who wants Miles to lavish her with gifts from the items he collects from the foreclosed houses he empties. Miles refuses and she threatens to inform the police that his sister is 17 and sleeping with a 28 year old man ( at this point Miles has been away from his New York family for close to 8 years with minimal contact through a mutual friend who reports to his father of his whereabouts. Miles is more or less forced to leave the state or risk serious jail time. He returns secretively to New York where he joins his mutual friend who has taken over a broken down house in "Sunset Park" He has filled the house with 3 other friends who are poor and destitude and on the verge of homelessness. Therefore, they occupy this shack of a dwelling as squatters, not fearing they could be evicted at any tome by the police. His friend is big burly slob with a violent temper because of his anti-society and radical views . Like Miles, he a loser with no direction and makes a pittance repairing broken typewriters and framing posters. The other members of the squatter house is a somewhat disheveled women who strives to be a painter but has mental and inner personal issues, and sees herself as a loser who cannot gain any traction in the New York City Art scene. The last member is a tall, large blond women in her thirties who is completing a dissertation at Columbia University. Her topic is male and female relationships after World War II focused on returning veterans having trouble getting adjusted to home with their families. Working on the last chapter of her study, she provides( or is it Auster) an analysis of the classic film. " The Best Years of Our Lives" of the post war period that is well made, though somewhat sentimental but offers a hopeful ending for the characters involved. The story is common, but film is carried by skill and the sincerity of the actors playing the main parts. This is another of Auster's pointless digressions which comes across as just" filler", and seems obliquely related to lives of the people involved in the novel. Unfortunately, Auster is again schooling his reader and demonstrating how informed he is about film history. The film is generally a great film but has its limitations and flaws, yet the female dissertation student chooses it as a way to pull together several of the thematic issues of her study.
The novel is flawed by the author's digressions, and showcasing his encyclopedia knowledge of trivia that weaken the narrative structure and obscure what the author is attempting to convey to the reader Even his reportage of the inner monologue of each character seems contrived and detached from what these characters may actually think in their individual desperate situations. This novel does not "REFLECT" the inner life and anguish of its characters, but instead superimposes the author's suppositions and judgments about them that does ring true to this reader. The novel has one believable character which draws out the reader empathy. he is Morris Heller, the father of Miles. He own a publishing company that he has successfully built over the course of his life, but may go under unless he can find new investors. Besides his profligate son his second wife is neurotic, overly scholarly wife and unforgiving of his one time fall from grace and runs off to England to teach Exeter College. All these pressures and including his uncertainty about his son Miles is wearing the man down. he is a good man with integrity but is hampered by family and business problems
The denouement of this jumbled narrative is both vaguely suspected, but also unsuspected. Where everything in Miles life seems to be working out, including a ceasefire within his family, and with friends. Miles prepares to return to Florida and when his girl friend Pilar turns 18 and legal, he will ask her to marry him Unfortunately, Miles is again railroaded by fate, or just his succession of stupid mistakes and lackadaisical misjudgments about people. The upheaval is serious enough to return all the major players of the novel back to square one.
If Auster has a theme to convey, it may be an indirect rebuke of the 60's countercultural mantra "to do your own thing in your own time, and that..."it all is good". Fate is a positive force in this cosmic view of the universe; whereas fate is a cruel interlocutor in people's lives and grudgingly offers second chances Miles and his squatter house friends may be either victims of fate, or just stupid in their life choices and decisions.. Whether Auster's haphazard parable intends this theme is also unclear.. .