Auster writes of “the obsessive story that has wormed its way into your soul and become an integral part of your being.”...

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INVISIBLE

Many readers familiar with the work of Paul Auster consider him to be one of the most profound and provocative of contemporary novelists, a literary magician, a master of making fiction about the art—or the sleight-of-hand illusion—of making fiction.

Auster attracted a loyal following in the mid-1980s for what was subsequently known as his New York Trilogy—an elliptical trio of genre subversions and meditations on identity—but his reviews have been mixed in the two decades since the subsequent Moon Palace and The Music of Chance. Now comes Invisible, a novel of such virtuosity and depth that it should not only unite the faithful in a hallelujah chorus, it deserves to draw legions of converts as well. More than a return to form, this might be Auster’s best novel yet, combining his postmodern inquiries into the nature of fiction and the essence of identity—the interplay between life and art—with a thematic timelessness in its narrative of virtue and evil, guilt and redemption. If this isn’t quite Auster’s Crime and Punishment, it could be his Notes from the Underground. It’s also a novel he couldn’t have written a couple of decades ago, during what was previously considered his peak. Though it concerns a 20-year-old, literary-minded student at Columbia University in 1967—when the literary-minded Auster was the same age at the same university—its narrative reflects the autumnal perspective of four decades later, with a protagonist whose life has taken different turns than Auster’s. In fact, there are three distinct narrative voices, as sections employ the first-person “I,” the second-person “you” and the third person “he” in relating the story of how the student’s encounter with a visiting professor from Paris and his silent, seductive girlfriend changes the lives of all three and others as well. The labyrinth of plot and narrative also includes the student’s beautiful sister, a mother and daughter in France through whom he seeks atonement and a fellow Columbia alum who has become, like Auster, a successful writer. There are sins, obsessions, a corpse and a thin line between fantasy and memory. To reveal more would rob the reader of the discoveries inherent within this novel’s multilayered richness.

Auster writes of “the obsessive story that has wormed its way into your soul and become an integral part of your being.” This is that story.

Pub Date: Oct. 27, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-8050-9080-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2009

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Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

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SUCH A FUN AGE

The relationship between a privileged White mom and her Black babysitter is strained by race-related complications.

Blogger/role model/inspirational speaker Alix Chamberlain is none too happy about moving from Manhattan to Philadelphia for her husband Peter's job as a TV newscaster. With no friends or in-laws around to help out with her almost-3-year-old, Briar, and infant, Catherine, she’ll never get anywhere on the book she’s writing unless she hires a sitter. She strikes gold when she finds Emira Tucker. Twenty-five-year-old Emira’s family and friends expect her to get going on a career, but outside the fact that she’s about to get kicked off her parents’ health insurance, she’s happy with her part-time gigs—and Briar is her "favorite little human." Then one day a double-header of racist events topples the apple cart—Emira is stopped by a security guard who thinks she's kidnapped Briar, and when Peter's program shows a segment on the unusual ways teenagers ask their dates to the prom, he blurts out "Let's hope that last one asked her father first" about a Black boy hoping to go with a White girl. Alix’s combination of awkwardness and obsession with regard to Emira spins out of control and then is complicated by the reappearance of someone from her past (coincidence alert), where lies yet another racist event. Reid’s debut sparkles with sharp observations and perfect details—food, décor, clothes, social media, etc.—and she’s a dialogue genius, effortlessly incorporating toddler-ese, witty boyfriend–speak, and African American Vernacular English. For about two-thirds of the book, her evenhandedness with her varied cast of characters is impressive, but there’s a point at which any possible empathy for Alix disappears. Not only is she shallow, entitled, unknowingly racist, and a bad mother, but she has not progressed one millimeter since high school, and even then she was worse than we thought. Maybe this was intentional, but it does make things—ha ha—very black and white.

Charming, challenging, and so interesting you can hardly put it down.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-54190-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

THE HANDMAID'S TALE

The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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