MR. VERTIGO by Paul Auster


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Auster (Leviathan, 1992, etc.) departs from his usual cerebral fiction for this quick trip into Doctorow Land -- a mytho-historical tale that invokes the American '20s, complete with glamorous gangsters and legendary sports stars. Writing in his anec-dotage, the septuagenarian Waiter Rawley recalls his moment of fame back in his youth when he toured the country as "Walter the Wonder Boy," a freckle-faced bumpkin who could walk through the air. Walter's levitations were no sham, but a carefully nurtured talent developed by the mysterious Master Yehudi, a Hungarian Jewish impresario who discovered Walter on the streets of St. Louis at age nine. "A pus-brained ragamuffin from honky-tonk row," the orphaned Walter eventually submits to Yehudi's grueling regimen. Yehudi's household on the Kansas prairie harbors other outcasts also: Mother Sue, a stout Sioux who once performed in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show; and Aesop, a precocious crippled black foundling admitted to Yale. Yehudi and Walter finally take their show on the road after their house is visited by the KKK, who lynch Mother Sue and Aesop. Walter's fame grows rapidly. "In the arms of the great ambient nothingness," he floats above ground, astounding audiences from coast to coast. His career is interrupted by a ghost from his past, a mean-spirited uncle who wants some of the loot. Then disaster strikes: The onset of puberty destroys his gift. Life after that is never the same. Yehudi shoots himself. Walter becomes a gangster in Chicago; develops a bizarre obsession with the great pitcher Dizzy Dean; and slowly fades away into alcoholic obscurity before recovering and writing this tale. Despite intimations of allegory and parable, Auster's dizzying trip through the century is not nearly as dimensional as Moon Palace, his previous escape from the metaphysical rigors of his shorter works into the picaresque. Disappointing.
Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0140231900
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1994


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