Follies with feeling

The Brooklyn Follies

By Paul Auster

This must have been a really hard book to write. The Brooklyn Follies is light-hearted, even whimsical. And yet it also seems to mean something. The trickster Paul Auster has delivered both a romp and a touching story of redemption in the same pages. The novel reminds of some of John Irving’s best work (albeit less epic) and Michael Chabon’s The Wonder Boys (although not quite as good).

The Brooklyn Follies goes down like a fluffy meringue, but there’s a delicious cherry inside. We see how people cannot become who they are supposed to become, and how they can fall even if they become something. In either case, there is hope. It is rarely apparent, but Auster says it is there all the time. Almost every character in this book follows such a path, meandering through divorces, frauds and failed religious indoctrination.

But it is Auster’s light touch that makes the whole thing very seductive and even gripping. I kept thinking about these characters, seeing them as people and wanting to hang out with them. Auster’s Brooklyn is not rose-tinted or nostalgic; its residents have to drudge like the rest of us. The only difference is that I wanted to be with them, such in the joy of Auster’s prose.

Almost of the book’s characters are liberal (in the American sense) and this was one of its only annoying elements. The fact itself didn’t annoy, but how their liberalism functioned in the book did. They weren’t sanctimonious in their politics, but the fact that they won the argument every time was unrealistic and did not reflect the complexity the book has elsewhere. Emotions are complicated, it says, but politics is simple (liberalism is the solution, period). But this criticism is the only blotch on an otherwise enjoyable modern American novel.

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