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Thursday, December 16, 2010

A House for Broken People

Sunset Park
Paul Auster
Henry Holt, 2010

After falling in love with an underage girl and stirring the wrath of her older sister, New York native Miles Heller flees to Brooklyn and shacks up with a group of artists squatting in the borough's Sunset Park neighborhood.

Point of view changes in this thoughtful novel about people living on the fringes of society. Miles is the main character who has been estranged from his parents since the accidental death of his stepbrother when he was a teenager. Now in the thirties, Miles is forced to reconnect with his previous life when his relationship with a high school girl is threatened. He knows that he could go to jail, but this girl is so beautiful, mature and gifted that he comes up with the idea of leaving her in his apartment to finish her senior year of high school while he returns to New York for the duration. While there, he sees the inevitability of connecting with his parents, so he begins the process of becoming their son again after not communicating with them for several years.

Meanwhile, Miles’ father enters the picture. He has known of Miles’ whereabouts ever since he disappeared because one of his high school friend, Bing, has kept him in the loop. Now he and Miles’ mother, a famous actress, both know that Miles is back in town and are waiting anxiously for him to contact them.

Trying to save money, Miles moves in with Bing and his friends Alice and Ellen. They are living in an abandoned house that somehow has electricity, rent-free. Alice is a graduate study working on her dissertation about the movie The Best Years of Their Lives, which apparently impacted many people powerfully. Ellen is a lease agent by day and an erotic artist by night, hoping to kindle a meaningful relationship with the right man. Bing, the author of this alternative lifestyle, is a musician and owner of the “Hospital for Broken Things,” a fix it shop. All these people are misfits of one kind or another and hoping beyond hope they can save enough money to move before they are evicted, or worse, arrested as vagrants.

This book is centered around the characters' past injuries and hurts and how they have come together at this one point in their lives to intersect in this one place. Sunset Park offers them their one chance to heal, if they so choose, and give each other the support and forgiveness that has been missing from theirlives. Yet, even in their little society, they each are lonely in their own way and struggling to trying to break free of their isolation and brokenness in order to connect with each other. Composed of long sentences with many details, Auster weaves a beautiful story of forgiveness and redemption that flows in a lyrical and easy manner. These characters feel like people I could sit down and have a chat with, perhaps becoming friends.

My only complaint is the end, which seemed abrupt and confusing. I even had to reread it several times to figure out what the heck happened. Otherwise, this was a very rewarding book.


Other books by this author:
In the Country of Last Things (1987)
Hand to Mouth: a chronicle of early failure (1997)
Timbuktu (1999)
The Book of Illusions (2002)
Oracle Night (2003)
The Brooklyn Follies (2006)
Travels in the Scriptorium (2007)
The New York Trilogy (2008)
Man in the Dark (2008)
Invisible (2009)

Other titles you may enjoy:

Postcards by Annie Proulx (1992)
Loyal Blood leaves his family in Vermont and carries the secret with across the country that he accidentally killed his girlfriend, and he continually sends postcards back home.

Shroud by John Banville (2003)
When a young woman threatens to expose a damaging secret from his former life, Axel Vander, an elderly scholar and master liar, is forced to examine his past to uncover the truths that he has so carefully hidden

Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving (2009)
In 1954, in the cookhouse of a logging and sawmill settlement in northern New Hampshire, an anxious twelve-year-old boy mistakes the local constable's girlfriend for a bear. Both the twelve-year-old and his father become fugitives, forced to run from Coos County-to Boston, to southern Vermont, to Toronto-pursued by the implacable constable. Their lone protector is a fiercely libertarian logger, once a river driver, who befriends them.

1 comment:

  1. I'm so glad I found your blog. I love the library and I love a good, clear review.