Click here to read reviewer Deborah Straw's take on Man in the Dark.
August Brill doesn’t think he is a nice man, but he is. In Paul Auster’s deft hands, Brill, the main character in Man in the Dark, becomes a complex, sympathetic protagonist – a man who can’t sleep at night so invents stories to fend off memories and heartaches. As the night bends toward morning, he extends the favor to his beloved - and also sleepless –granddaughter, Katya.
Like many characters in Auster’s novels, Brill is himself a writer, in this case a retired critic. After an unfortunate car accident following the death of his wife, Brill has come to stay with his daughter and granddaughter in rural Vermont (a favorite setting of Auster’s). Stories within his stories are a common tactic in Auster’s numerous novels, and Man in the Dark offers up several. But most importantly, the main theme of this little gem of a book, also like other Auster tales, is how to continue living, day in and day out, past personal tragedy.
Since Brill doesn’t want to think about his own mistakes or the death of his wife, he constructs the story of Owen Brick, a time-traveler who becomes stuck in a modern-day civil war in the U.S. The only way out of the war is for Brick to murder the writer who keeps continuing the story driving the war - or, as the writer Brill has Brick muse, “one nightmare replaces another.”
While Brill’s lonely divorced daughter, Miriam, is a peripheral character, his granddaughter Katya plays an important role, driving the discussions about the movies she and Brill watch to anesthetize themselves, drawing out Brill’s personal story and forcing his confessions and self awareness, and revealing the other tragedy at the heart of this novel: the horrific murder of her boyfriend Titus.
In interviews, the author has confessed that his frustration with American politics, particularly the 2000 elections, gave him the feeling of being in some sort of parallel universe and inspired him to quickly write this story. Auster has Lou Frisk, Brick’s nemesis in Brill’s narrative, reveal:
“There’s no single reality, Corporal. There are many realities. There’s no single world. There are many worlds, and they all run parallel to another, worlds and anti-worlds, worlds and shadow-worlds, and each world is dreamed or imagined or written by someone in another world. Each world is the creation of a mind.”
Man in the Dark is the author’s 12th novel, in company with such notable titles as The Brooklyn Follies, The Book of Illusions, and The New York Trilogy. The multi-talented Auster is also a poet, a nonfiction author with four biographies to his credit, an award-winning screenwriter (Lulu on the Bridge, among others), and an acclaimed editor. Another novel is due out next year, and I, along with legions of Auster fans, eagerly await it.