After writing a trio of unresolved existential detective fictions, Auster followed up The New York Trilogy with In the Country of Last Things. At first this seems like a departure from the previous work, as it takes place in a dystopian country and its protagonist is female. Peel away these surface differences and you find some common ground with his previous work — the elliptical ending, for example, and the passing connection with his previous work. (The passing appearance of a stranger named Quinn gave me a shiver.)
Admittedly, I struggled with this book, which is why it took me a long time to write this review. The first 75 or so pages read slowly — instead of bringing us into the narrative, he slowly and deliberately describes the world in which Anna lives. Writing from the perspective of the opposite gender can be tricky, and the story works best when it doesn’t deal with Anna’s femininity. In a few places, her appreciation of being looked at rang false, and a lesbian affair that comes towards the end of the novel seemed like the male idea of what such a fling would be like. Because of the small size of this novel’s world, Auster’s use of coincidence and surprise works beautifully. I appreciated the destitute, non-technology-based brave new world that Auster created, which is more true to how one would imagine an apocalypse than most other things I’ve read.
Just as Country reveals what may have happened to Daniel Quinn, Moon Palace contains a sentence that describes Anna Blume’s origins. (This makes me wonder if there’s an Austerian equivalent to the Tommy Westphall Universe.) That said, Moon Palace seems closer to a traditional bildungsroman than most of his previous work. Marco Stanley Fogg is a young orphan of about Auster’s age who grows up under the watchful eye of his bandleader uncle. After the death of his last family member, Fogg goes to New York to study writing at Columbia and takes a job as a helpmate and memoirist for an eccentric artist and bon vivant. We eventually learn how Fogg is connected to his boss.
What I found interesting about this book is how Auster plays with the idea of autobiography. One of the things we first learn about Fogg is his alma mater, which is the same as Auster’s and which has played a huge role in many of his novels. Based on this, and based on Fogg’s age and the ascetic life and love of classic literature he espouses, one might see the protagonist as a stand-in for the writer. Towards the end of the story, we experience Fogg’s perspective through a kind of split screen. One of the things that happens to him reveals his callow side, but we have also been placed deeply enough within his perspective that we come to understand how he came to be that person.
I’m hoping to review The Music of Chance in less time than it took me to write these.