What a run. I was wondering a couple of months ago if I’d be able to get together a decent top ten for ’08, now I’ve got the wonderful task of maybe naming a top twelve or so and still counting.
The Latest wonder is Paul Auster’s Book of Illusions. Its action and storytelling is linear and straightforward; however, Illusions is nonetheless artful and complex. Oh, and by the way, I suddenly find myself with still another definition to add to my list of descriptions for Postmodernism. “Auster,” says the Powell’s website reviewer “could be postmodernism’s poster child. Structurally overt, intellectually complex, metaphorically self-conscious, Auster explores surfaces in order to dig deep and borrows classical forms in order to reveal contemporary dissonance.” Exploring what that last sentence means could probably occupy a semester’s worth of seminar without achieving elucidation. But I digress.
Professor David Zimmer loses wife and two sons in an airplane crash. Moreover, he’s the one who talked them into taking the particular flight responsible. Heavy with grief and guilt, he plunges into liquored-up isolation, eased somewhat by a sudden influx of cash from life insurance and a couple of other sources. He stumbles on a short film starring an obscure silent film actor who disappeared at the height of his career. The man’s films make him laugh for the first time since the tragedy. Being a professor, he starts his research and, predictably, his recovery.
The predictability ends there. Zimmer publishes a book about the actor’s life and art (focusing on the art, investigating little about the disappearance/death) leaves it aside for another. Then the subject of the first book–the actor himself–emerges from the dead or disappeared. Maybe. It’s not clear which at first. The second book Zimmer has been working on is by and about the musings of a dead Frenchman circa the Revolution. It connects with events within and surrounding the first book in both subtle and obvious ways. Possibly “to reveal contemporary dissonance.” Whether all of this will result in the recovery or relapse of our erstwhile professor is unclear. Will he love again? Can he? The answers, even at the end, remain vague. It’s the search that seems to matter more than anything. And the choices. And the creation of the record of the search and discovery.
Illusions is a fairly quick read, but it leaves echoes. I keep remembering scenes, lines, ideas. Wondering about I’m not exactly sure what, but it has to do with creation and art and destruction and the futility of aspirations of immortality. Or of destroying those aspirations. It’s a work that lives with you and a work that’s nice to live with. Try it.