Paul Auster - Sunset Park
It’s nearly 25 years since New Jersey boy Paul Auster wormed his way into the literary psyche with the unnervingly brilliant New York Trilogy. The existential mysteries and metaphysical puzzles he set up and explored seemed fresh and exciting. His critical report card has been largely spotless since then, but with Sunset Park, he has merely offered up a mildly diverting, sub-Franzen slice of Americana with a lightweight emotional thrust and a lack of literary oomph.
The story revolves around the Heller family, whose grown-up son Miles has fled his NYC home after overhearing his parents discussing their faltering relationship with him. This self-imposed exile is partly driven by the guilt he still feels over his step-brother’s death many years earlier. When he finally returns to the city as part of an upmarket squatter project, the day of family reckoning looms.
Auster has declared himself to be going through his ‘innocence of youth’ period and there’s an awful lot of extinguishing of early life going on here whether it’s through abortion, suicide or Bobby Heller’s death; and it can’t be an accident that one of the squatters is obsessed with William Wyler’s 40s weepie, The Best Years of Our Lives. This is a novel infiltrated by ghosts. As well as the fictional mortalities, characters are obsessed with the real-life tragedies of actors and baseball stars. But the (hopefully temporary) demise of Paul Auster is the saddest one here.