Book review: Moon Palace by Paul Auster

I can’t remember when I started reading Paul Auster, but he has been one of my favorite authors ever since. I’ve started re-reading some of his work recently and am reminded what makes him such a great writer. Auster has a distinct narrative style; the narrator’s voice always seems familiar whether it’s in the first or third person. I think Roland Barthe’s, The Death of the Author, and his concept of the author’s narrative voice disappearing from the text has never happened with Auster; his voice is alive and well and front and center.

This is my second reading of Moon Palace, and the author as usual brings forward his favorite themes in this New York City based story of isolation and search for identity.  Our narrator and protagonist Phineas Fogg is a college student and orphan who wastes his small inheritance and when things start to get down to the bone – he’s shedding pounds and on the verge of eviction – yet he does nothing about it, at least not what a “normal” person would do, he doesn’t go in search of a job, in fact, he never mentions the idea of work.

“I began to notice that good things happened to me only when I stopped wishing for them. In other words, you only got what you wanted only by not wanting it.”

Fogg finds salvation through old man Effing. Readers are feed some foreshadowing when the narrator tells us that Effing had lied to him during their first encounter. Effing is elderly, blind, cantankerous, and wheelchair bound. We don’t know how he made his fortune, but he has money. He is mysterious and grumpy and due to his blindness; Fogg reads to him endlessly and describes what he sees while wheeling him around the streets of Manhattan. Fogg is now learning to see the world with new eyes; Effing criticizes his efforts, forcing Fogg to reconsider his view.

“I thought that abandoning myself to the chaos of the world, the world might ultimately reveal some secret harmony to me, some form or pattern that would help me penetrate myself.”

Auster’s characters have a common trait running through them. They are compelled by outside forces to look beyond the average grind of daily life, they reveal the wonders behind the everyday common experience and discover what is just below the mundane surface; the life that most of us are afraid to embrace. They take chances, throw caution to the wind, and stop worrying.

This story, like so many Auster stories, united characters through odd circumstances. Auster fully embraces chance encounters and the stars aligning to bring people together. He locked on to this idea due to circumstances in his own life. He mentioned in an interview that one day in NYC after arriving home from a book tour, a friend called him up to invite him to a poetry reading and Auster hummed and hawed and tried to get out of it but acquiesced, went to the reading, and ended up meeting his future wife.

We can never be aware of the thousands of micro-missed opportunities in our past. That’s what life is, millions of choices that seem to have no consequences, but we can never really know, nevertheless, it provides one novelist with the premise for some great postmodernist literature.

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