In an essay from the mid-1970’s on the poet Charles Reznikoff, Paul Auster wrote of the poet’s ability to
choose the exact detail that will say everything and thereby allow as much as possible to remain unsaid. This kind of restraint paradoxically requires an openness of spirit that is available to very few….
–from The Art of Hunger
Paul Auster wrote that before he had written the novels that would make him famous. And while I have not read the poetry he had written, I’m willing to grant—because of those novels—that he was writing here from experience. He knew, from the inside, what he was talking about. The New York Trilogy proved it.
Another attribute available to few: the ability to write a successful long novel, long in my estimation being more than 400 pages. Auster has written brilliant short novels, surely some of the best of our time. Could he now, pushing 70, write a successful long one? And why would he want to? Isn’t that like moving backwards? Isn’t leaving out a greater challenge than putting in? Those are the questions that drew me to 4321, Auster’s new novel of nearly 900 pages. Why in God’s name would he want to do it? Continue reading