In Oracle Night, prolific author Paul Auster once again delivers a complex, satisfying novel. Protagonist Sidney Orr is a thirty-four-year-old writer recovering from a near-fatal accident. Walking around his Brooklyn neighborhood to rebuild his strength, he stumbles upon a tiny stationery store and purchases a seductive blue notebook.
Starting with the barest outline of a story suggested by a successful writer friend (based on a minor character in a famous novel), Sidney begins to fill the pages of his new notebook effortlessly. His basic premise: what happens when a man decides to walk out of his orderly life after a startling brush with the randomness of reality and tries instead to forge a new existence that reflects the accidental nature of the universe.
Within Bowen’s tale is a manuscript supposedly written by a famous author decades earlier and just recently delivered to her granddaughter. Just one of the examples of art imitating life in Auster’s book, this manuscript is entitled “Oracle Night.” Sidney envisions this tale to be about an injured war veteran who sees flashes of the future:
“His talent is both a curse and a blessing. It brings him wealth and influence, but at the same time the attacks cause him intense physical pain – not to speak of mental pain, since many of Flagg’s visions furnish him with knowledge of things he would prefer not to know.”
A definite foreshadowing of Sidney’s future state.
The clever use of lengthy footnotes enable readers to discover more about Sidney’s life. (For instance, we pause Bowen’s story to learn how Sidney met his lovely wife, Grace, and discover the connection he has with the type of work – publishing - of his protagonist.) In addition to Grace being the inspiration for his story’s Rosa, she has a dream that echoes her husband’s current work. Sidney’s fiction is based on reality; in Auster’s work, reality mimics fiction as well.
The continuing thread of the stationery store owner, an immigrant out to realize the American dream, and a seemingly minor character, the son of the successful author friend John Trause, as well as Trause’s own story, help flesh out the characters of both Sidney and Grace. It is the story of Sidney’s relationship with Grace, however, that becomes the driving force of the narrative. At the end of the tale, readers are left wondering if, “the future is inside us at every moment. Maybe that’s what writing is all about… Not recording events from the past, but making things happen in the future.”
Since Oracle Night’s first publication in 2003, Picador has released a new edition. While this is not my favorite Auster work (there are a few seedy sidelines), this novel compels you to keep reading – and thinking about it long after you are finished.
Auster has written more than a dozen novels, including Man in the Dark, The Book of Illusions and The New York Trilogy. He is also an accomplished poet, a nonfiction author of biographies, an award-winning screenwriter (Lulu on the Bridge) and an acclaimed editor.