Like the best 18th-century fiction, this witty and wildly inventive novel revels in its implausibilities, and it does so with an attention to character and cosmos worthy of Swift, Fielding, or Sterne. Auster (The New York Trilogy, In the Country of Last Things) here fashions three personal histories that span the 20th-century and range across the American landscape, from the chaotic city to the desolate frontier. Marco Stanley Fogg, illegitimate and orphaned at 11, seems a victim of fate and a child of his time. At Columbia University during the 60's, Marco, always an oddball and outsider while growing up with his bachelor uncle in Chicago, begins his descent into nothingness, hoping to create from his screwy life a work of art. At best, he becomes a minimalist artifact, as he abandons his few friends and possessions, and makes a job of daily survival. Soon after graduation, this restless explorer of the self takes to the streets, sleeping in Central Park, eating from trash bins, and discovering the meaning of utter loneliness. Eventually saved from self-destruction, Marco finds love with the enigmatic Kitty Wu--a beautiful "orphan in the storm" herself- and a job with Thomas Effing--a dying octogenarian who chooses Marco as his biographer. This cantankerous codger turns out to be "a kindred spirit," a former painter who took advantage of a disastrous trip out West in 1916, and created a new identity after he was presumed dead. With his actual death planned for the near future, Effing wants the son he never met to know the truth. After Effing's death, Solomon, the abandoned son, spins his tragic tale to Marco as well. An indiscretion with a 19-year-old student back in the 50's led this "scholarly curmudgeon" on a path to academic obscurity and personal dejection. The stories of Marco, Effing, and Solomon, each told in their time and sharing a similar design, suggest not only a synchronicity of life cycles, but also prove to have a more intimate connection--a connection discovered too late to save Marco from yet another encounter with absolute loneliness. Coming so soon after a string of masterly little novels, Auster's latest attests to the expansiveness of his vision and the deepening of his voice.