IN THE COUNTRY OF LAST THINGS
Auster here turns from the metafictional playfulness of his recent detective yarns (City of Glass, 1985, and Ghosts, p. 822), and offers a spare and chilling account of a civilization in decay It's a post-apocalyptic vision of urban holocaust that bears witness to past, present, and future devastations. Anna Blume, young, beautiful, and once a pampered rich girl, here writes to an unnamed friend, who may never even see this notebook, about her years in an unnamed land, searching for her brother, William, a journalist who disappeared while on assignment. What's happened in this "country of last things" remains unclear: "where the past is concerned, the truth tends to get obscured quickly." Anna instead records the aftermath--the near-total destruction of all evidence of humanity. With little hope of escape, survival means forgetting former comforts and former selves. Death, now an "art form," pervades in this city where "there is nothing people will not do." Runners jog into a fatal frenzy; leapers hurl themselves from buildings; assassination Clubs and Euthanasia Clinics provide further opportunity for self-destruction. And through the carnage, Anna persists on her dark pilgrimage, struggling with Despair, joining the Scavengers, those barely living foragers who pick through the rubble. Amidst the "doom and gloom" as in "Blume," Anna discovers love in the ruins--for the maternal Isabel, herself mated to a nasty miniature shipbuilder, Ferdinand (the former patrons of a more famous explorer?); for Victoria Woburn, a Jane Addams manquÃ‰, whose settlement house seems to destroy as many people as it helps; and for Samuel Farr, also sent by William's paper, whose massive oral history of the "the Troubles" goes up in flames. As allegorical as Pilgrim's Progress and as heartfelt as Anne Frank's Diary, this relentlessly abstract narrative remains grounded in the everyday world and thereby resonates with both moral and historical truth. A stunning achievement.