The Brooklyn Follies is all about a middle-aged man called Nathan Glass, divorced, a cancer survivor, estranged from his daughter, who goes to Brooklyn to die. While there, he reunites with his nephew Tom, who is working in a bookshop for an earnest, checkered-past-y, rather gullible man called Harry. The events of the story come together to give Nathan a life again.
I cannot decide what my final verdict on the book is. In parts, I really really liked it. It was extremely well-written, as I noticed from the first. I would say this was its most notable characteristic, that it was well-written. I was interested in what was going to happen to everyone as soon as they showed up – or if not as soon as, then definitely shortly thereafter. There was an element of absurdism – I say an element, it was a really big element – and I am a fan of absurdism too. The little girl Lucy who shows up and changes Nathan and Tom’s lives is adorable and (mostly) exactly like a little girl. This was all good. Oh, and there was a cult. I want more cult!
On the other hand, the author kept bringing up weighty matters very casually, and then not paying them off. For instance, he mentions the 2000 election a number of times, just matter-of-factly complaining about Bush’s awfulness and how that election was handled badly, without actually discussing it in a serious way. I don’t mind characters having political views that they don’t talk about in depth, but it came up often enough in The Brooklyn Follies to feel like a preachy message from the author, rather than a view held by the characters. I don’t like preachy.
Furthermore, I did not like the way the character of Aurora was handled. I am not sure I can articulate the way I felt about it, but I will give it a go. Aurora is Tom’s sister, and Tom tells a long tragic story, awfully long and awfully tragic, about how he lost track of her and then one day he discovered she was doing porn and then she had been gang-raped by the porn crew, and then he was taking care of her, and then she vanished again. Later on she gets married to a cult member who keeps her locked in a room when she refuses to keep going to church after the cult leader comes on to her and she gives him oral sex (this story she tells at some length to her uncle).
It’s not that the characters are saying, Hooray for rape and bad culty sex behaviors. They are upset that Aurora has gone through all of this. But still I do not feel comfortable with the way it’s handled. Aurora hardly ever speaks for herself, or does anything for herself. She undergoes many miserable trials, and en fin Uncle Nat rescues her. There’s never any attempt to deal honestly with what happens to her, or pay it out emotionally, which makes you wonder what it’s all in there for, this rape and bad culty sex behaviors business.
As I say, the book was well-written, but this Aurora problem bothered me enough that I wasn’t able to enjoy it. Perhaps I shall try a different Paul Auster book instead? Any Paul Auster fans out there who want to weigh in on this issue? Am I imagining things? Is there a method to the madness that I’m just not picking up on?