The Brooklyn Follies is my second Paul Auster (see Book of Illusions, December 4, 2008), and it has one of the best opening lines I’ve ever seen. Every week, the SF Chronicle publishes a little box that claims to be grabby openers. Most of them aren’t, and certainly none I’ve seen there matches, “I was looking for a quiet place to die.” Unfortunately, The Brooklyn Follies doesn’t live up to the promise of its curtain raiser.
It’s an exquisite setup. Nathan is in his September years—approaching sixty—and suffering from lung cancer. He establishes himself in a Brooklyn neighborhood, sets up a little routine that he means to carry him comfortably to the grave. Unfortunately, his cancer remises,
he gets involved in a number of lives of a number of very interesting characters, and some really interesting and bad things happen. Then, just when things re at their worst, the book turns to feelgood fluff. Not that it hasn’t been positive to that point. There are plenty of humor and close relationships amid the conflicts and hardships. But there’s always been enough trouble—past, present, and pending—to keep the dramatic tension high. Auster’s prose is fluid, and he varies the format enough (One chapter is in the form of a stage script, for example.) to keep the reader entertained with variety. Why he decides to turn the last hundred pages into a tell-not-show sitcom, I don’t know. But that’s what he does, and it spoils a promising books.
Book of Illusionsˆhas some depth to it. Brooklyn Follies stops just as its about to enter the deep end, then turns around and goes back to the shallows. Too bad.