Paul Auster, “The New York Trilogy” (1986) – Every now and again, I look into the whole “big names of contemporary capital-L Literature” thing. I want to say, “just to see if it’s still bad,” but sometimes I find something I like; Sally Rooney’s “Normal People” was pretty good. It’s arguable how “contemporary” “The New York Trilogy” is, given it’s about as old as me, but Auster is still a name I hear get thrown around by literary young people. He doesn’t seem like much too bad a guy, avoiding the bad reputations of other great white chiefs of American literature: Franzen, Foster Wallace, Bellow, etc.
So I haven’t got a problem of ethos or politics with the guy, as far as I know. May he continue his journey in peace. I can narrow down my complaint with “The New York Trilogy” to one word: verbs. There’s a real dearth of good verbs in these three novellas. Especially given that Auster is inspired here from crime fiction, which has a lot of good action words in it if it’s worth a damn, this is baffling. It makes reading a slog. Is he trying to get across something about existential pointlessness this way? If there’s no point in writing, is there a point in reading? Hell if I know.
The best story is the first one, which at least has an interesting antagonistic, an intellectual with peculiar ideas about God, language, and child rearing, but he disappears and that’s that. The other stories lack such interest, and the middle one has this annoying tic of having all the characters named after colors (Brown, White, Blue, etc), and it doesn’t work, even if it did for “Reservoir Dogs.” I understand that they were meant to be slices of a certain kind of New York life… but beyond street names and the occasional conversation about the Mets, there’s not a lot here to distinguish it from any other big city. Maybe there’s a whole lot I’m not getting. But Auster failed to convince me there’s much more to get. **