Friday, March 7, 2014

Deeply Uninteresting and Hugely Overpraised: THE BOOK OF ILLUSIONS by Paul Auster


Picador USA
$16.00 trade paper, available now

Book Circle Reads 3 Sorry I read it, and what a slog.

Another one where I stand by my one-liner. Ye gods and little fishes, what a snore!

Rating: one furious, disgusted star of however many stars there are in a galaxy

The Publisher Says: Six months after losing his wife and two young sons, Vermont Professor David Zimmer spends his waking hours mired in a blur of alcoholic grief and self-pity. One night, he stumbles upon a clip from a lost film by silent comedian Hector Mann. His interest is piqued, and he soon finds himself embarking on a journey around the world to research a book on this mysterious figure, who vanished from sight in 1929.

When the book is published the following year, a letter turns up in Zimmer’s mailbox bearing a return address from a small town in New Mexico inviting him to meet Hector. Zimmer hesitates, until one night a strange woman appears on his doorstep and makes the decision for him, changing his life forever.

My Review: Protagonist loses family, isolates self from world to plumb solipsistic depths of grief and depression, discovers obsessive interest in an artist now of no great interest, sets out to rediscover and rehabilitate said artist, succeeds, and through a miracle of identification with the vanished artist's sufferings which mirror his own, protagonist resumes living in the real world again.

Does that sound familiar? It ought's also the plot of the over-praised and underwhelming "New York Trilogy." Every writer, every artist, rides their hobbyhorses. Nothing new there. The question is, do you want to go along for the ride? In Auster's case, I do not.

But why not? Because I experienced a lot lot lot of grieving very early in life, when the AIDS epidemic was at its height. I lost every gay friend I'd made. I volunteered as a helper in the hospital...just showed up and did stuff, no training, no pay, and lots of nurses and porters would teach me what to do so they wouldn't risk getting the disease.

I held a lot of hands as men died. I saw a few mothers come to their sons' bedsides to excoriate them one last time for being queer and so embarrassing the church, the family, god. I had no idea what to say to their terrified faces as they died at 23...27...31.

But I fuckin' got up every morning and I went and DID SOMETHING.

I have ZERO tolerance for these a-holes who think their teensy little selves are so important that their pain is all that matters in the world. SHUT THE FUCK UP and get out of your own asshole and DO SOMETHING.

Okay, unsympathetic much? Yes. I lost the love of my life to AIDS in 1992. He died at 35. I do not want to hear crap from anyone about depression 'cause I been there too, and didn't treat it like it was All Important. I went to the doctor, I got help, I gave up some very unpleasant addictions, and I got on with life the whole time.

And I would give anything I have ever had to have my man back. Anything. I miss him fiercely even now, 20 years later.

So Mr. Auster can keep his wet-mouthed wet-eyed puling to his damn self.

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  1. I can't speak to the book reviewed here, as I haven't and won't read it. However, I did find "New York Tilogy" one of the least praise-deserving boooks it has been my misfortune to read. This sounds like more of the same. Why on earth does he get this praise?

    1. I wish I knew. Sometimes a person is in the right place with the right product at the right time, and that could be what happened to ignite his popularity with critics.

  2. Auster has utterly failed to impress me, and I won't read any more of his stuff. You've just explained why that is so very eloquently.

    1. Oooh! How lovely of you to say that! Thanks, Linda.

  3. I confess that I have never read Auster because he appears frequently on NPR as a reviewer and commenter and I'm never sure I quite understand what the hell he's talking about. I've been assuming it's because I am hopelessly gauche and unsophisticated and unintelligent enough to "get" him. You've given me hope that maybe, just maybe, "it's you, not me". Thanks for that.

    1. De rien, ma amie. He's got quite a following, and a very large reputation, but all's I see is a nekkid emperor.


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