Man in the dark
Mr. Auster’s men are usually lonely and quite a bit desperate, they’re looking for impossible things and taking journeys in the never-ending hope that their lives will take on some kind of meaning but they are lost souls, somewhere in a corner of Brooklyn. And while this particular theme may come off as dull, there’s something unique and nuanced about the grief each of them is trying to keep at bay. From this point of view August Brill might be his most honest character – one who can only take metaphorical trips in his mind and who does so in the conscious effort to keep from sinking into thoughts of his dead wife. Owen Brick, the product of his imagination, is facing much of the same conundrums: fight or flight, how to deal when a new kind of reality is thrust upon him. His thoughts of suicide and their fading as the 7 allotted days go by reminded me of David Zimmer from The Book of Illusions and his downward self-destructive spiral after his wife’s death.
Man in the Dark is constructed a bit like a matryoshka doll (or, to be more topical, like Inception😀 ) and there are 3 narrative threads to follow: August Brill’s life in the light of day; Owen Brick coming to existence in his mind at night and his two adventures: one in the 2007 America we all know and one in an alternate reality, where the US are plagued by a second civil war and no longer exist as one nation. In Owen’s story an injection can transport you between those two parallel realities, and there’s a sort of meta quality to the whole setup since Owen’s mission in both worlds is, in fact, to kill August Brill, the man who made him up in the first place. A very roundabout way to suicide – as Owen himself (or rather, August) puts it.
But Brill discovers he can’t sleep and the mood drives him to brutally kill Owen and try to find a different story. It felt slightly unfulfilling; I was actually looking forward to see what else happened to Owen (and killing off a character simply because you have no idea where else to take him feels like a cheat), but, at the same time, it reminded me that it’s really not about Owen at all, that he was only a momentary distraction.
As Katya, the granddaughter escaping from her own tragedy, knocks on Brill’s door, the rest of that sleepless night turns into “truth night at Castle Despair” and Brill is forced to recount and face the very thing he was so afraid of stirring: his life with his dead wife (come to think of it – another recurrent motif in Auster’s work).
I love how Mr. Auster can turn a rather un-extraordinary, common story of grief, loneliness, missed chances and regrets into something so poignant that picks at whatever chords your soul has to offer. It might sound silly, but it’s a skill, a side of his talent, I find rather enviable. (On a side note, after the disappointment that was Leviathan, Paul Auster is now in my good books again :D)