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Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Report from the Interior: Paul Auster's Grand Voice Becomes Our Own

Paul Auster's "Report from the Interior" is the continuation of his biographical chronology (or non-chronology) and it covers the very early years of his life.  Certainly, I am not objective in my review of this volume due to my absolute fanaticism about his work.  Yet, I found the book so personally and tenderly rendered that I will suspend my lack of objectivity and surrender to a new level of love for Auster's words.  While being a companion to "Winter Journal," this book holds its own very much the same way that Auster's stories hold their own orbit in "The New York Trilogy."

The book is written in the second person, as Auster offers the reader the opportunity to participate in the investigation of extremely early age.  It is, however, a literary device that can be misused or poorly applied.  In Auster's case, his experience as a writer and thinker reconciles the line between the narrative technique and the metaphysical levels of "who's writing/narrating this."  There are so many universals about the narrative that it touches everyone who reads it.  One doesn't have to be a Jewish kid growing up in New Jersey, or a teenager hopelessly full of angst trying to find his way or even an early college student full of ambition and confusion to fall in line with the "you" of the narrative.  One tends to appropriate a narrative voice regardless of the grammatical construct, but Auster's masterpiece technique is one that does more than simply drawing the reader into the narrative.  The "you" in this book allows the reader to breach the lines between author and reader, narrator and listener.  The universality of life in full development can be a daunting, giant border to overcome.  How can a writer "hook" the reader (a description of this technique that I despise), keep her interested in the narrative, making her wanting to forgo all other things vying for her attention, and how can that writer assume the reins of direction without intruding in the "you" that constantly appear on the page?  And, in addition, how can he do that without falling into literary trickery?  The answer to this comes as an omnipresent voice at the start of the book, “In the beginning, everything was alive. The smallest objects were endowed with beating hearts, and even the clouds had names. Scissors could walk, telephones and teapots were first cousins, eyes and eyeglasses were brothers. The face of the clock was a human face, each pea in your bowl had a different personality, and the grille on the front of your parents’ car was a grinning mouth with many teeth. Pens were airships. Coins were flying saucers. The branches of trees were arms. Stones could think, and God was everywhere.”  This passage sets the tone that illustrates the mind of the very young, the Kantian apriori, or, say, for example, the opening passage of "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man."  This does the "trick" rather well without losing the effect of the second person voice which appropriates the narrative shortly thereafter.

The only lapse of temporary confusion I had with the book were the two lengthy retelling of two films that were instrumental in shaping Auster's identity.  One of these, "I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang" is told in amazing detail, so much so that I had to go find the film and watch it.  Naturally, it felt like cinematic deja vu.  I gave this some thought.  Why would Auster spend so many pages retelling the story of two films?  Why not list the titles and allow the reader to pursue them if they chose to?  The reason was not obvious to me, but later I found a couple of podcasts where Auster explains his indulgence.  The truth presented itself in the retelling of the film; that is to say, the impact of shaping Auster's young mind can only be apparent to the reader if he retells the plot illustrating the pressing importance of specific details.  Simply listing the title would have lost the meaning of what these two films meant to Auster.  "I am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang" illustrates Auster's early concern with issues of justice and history--the chronicle of unfairness and tough-breaks any individual can fall pray to.  The second film is "The Incredible Shrinking Man" which shows Auster's early concerns with identity, self and the ephemera of the physical existence.  The influence of this film compared to the issues of social justices carried in the previous one is less clear, but the amount of metaphysical inquiry it proposes is thrilling to the reader.  A man begins to shrink physically, what measurable (no pun intended) consequences can this have to the psyche of man--in the case of Auster, a very young man figuring out the world as it appears before his eyes.

The book is marvelously and tenderly rendered.  Auster designs the narrative like a museum gallery of the ages we travel.  The colors, light, shadings, shadows and composition of paintings hanging on the walls go from the elementary literary stick figures to complex avant garde depictions of the human condition.  Paul Auster remains, without a single doubt, my favorite writer and THE leading literary voice of his age.  Everything Auster writes shines with absolute perfection.

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