I have long been a fan of Paul Auster’s work. I started to read him when I was in my mid 20’s and spent the summer at my father’s house in Princeton, NJ while working on a movie. He had almost all his books up until then and I continued to buy them when I returned home.
Auster deals with identity; loss and disaster, and clearly depicts ordinary daily life with wonderful characters who often aren’t sure who they are.
This excerpt is from Part 2 (“Ghosts“) from “The New York Trilogy”, a collection of loosely connected detective stories published in 1986.
‘He lies down on his bed and thinks: goodbye, Mr White. You were never really there, were you? There never was such a man as White. And then poor Black. Poor soul. Poor blighted no one. And then, as his eyes grow heavy and sleep begins to wash over him, he thinks how strange it is that everything has its own color. Everything we see, everything we touch – everything in the world has its own color. Struggling to stay awake a little longer, he begins to make a list. Take blue for example, he says. There are bluebirds and blue jays and blue herons. There are cornflowers and periwinkles. There is noon over New York. There are blueberries, huckleberries, and the Pacific Ocean. There are blue devils and blue ribbons and blue bloods. There is a voice singing the blues. There is my fathers police uniform. There are blue laws and blue movies. There are my eyes and my name. He pauses, suddenly at a loss for more blue things, and then moves on to white. There are seagulls, he says, and terns and storks and cockatoos. There are the walls of this room and the sheets on my bed. There are lilies-of-the-valley, carnations, and the petals of daisies. There is the flag of peace and Chinese death. There is mothers milk and semen. There are my teeth. There are the whites of my eyes. There are white bass and white pines and white ants. There is the President’s house and white rot. There are white lies and white heat. Then without hesitating, he moves on to black, beginning with black books, the black market, and the Black Hand. There is night over New York, he says. There are the Chicago Black Sox. There are blackberries and crows, black-outs and black marks, Black Tuesday and the Black Death. There is blackmail. There is my hair. There is the ink that comes out of a pen. There is the world a blind man sees. Then finally growing tired of the game, he begins to drift, saying to himself that there is no end to it. He falls asleep, dreams of things that happened long ago, and then, in the middle of the night, wakes up suddenly and begins pacing the room again, thinking about what he will do next.’
The search for identity and personal meaning has permeated Paul Auster’s writing, many of which concentrate heavily on the role of coincidence and random events (The Music of Chance) or the relationships between people and their peers and environment (The Book of Illusions). Auster’s heroes often find themselves obliged to work as part of someone else’s inscrutable and larger-than-life schemes. He is heavily influenced by writers such as Edgar Allen Poe and Raymond Chandler. His work in books and film also harkens to David Lynch with coincidence and confusion often permeating his work. As a screenwriter, Auster wrote and co-directed (with Wayne Wang) the films “Smoke” (which won him the Independent Spirit Award for Best First Screenplay) in 1995 and “Blue in the Face”.