Monday, January 27, 2014

The Winter of our Lives?

There's a point near the end of novelist Paul Auster's quiet memoir, "Winter Journal," where he beautifully describes waking up in the morning and taking those first tentative steps, placing bare feet on cool, hardwood floors, taking in the joy, the sensuality of the feeling and wondering how many more times a sixty-five year old man will realistically get to savor this experience.

 He does not lament but simply admits that he suspects he is in the winter of his life. As a woman who celebrated sixty-five years herself yesterday, I would like to assure Mr. Auster that statistics say we likely have another twenty years!

In interviews he has said that he is running out of ideas for fiction writing. It's no wonder. The man is probably one of the most prolific, most lauded of our twentieth century American writers who is not a household name. I think that speaks to us as readers and not to his work. I had the pleasure of reviewing his 2010 novel "Sunset Park" for "Library Journal" and had this to say at the time:

 "Auster deftly balances minute details that evoke New York City, post-financial meltdown, with marvelously drawn characters bruised but unbowed by life's vicissitudes. He has an impressive array of literary nominations to his credit, but this should be the novel that brings him a broader readership."
—Sally Bissell, Library Journal, (Starred Review)

I admit that I just love author memoirs so I was predisposed to enjoy "Winter Journal." I listened to the audio version read by the author, something I don't normally recommend. Ironically, writers are not always adept at reading their own books. In this case, Mr. Auster's voice is low and rather monotone, and I found myself often having to turn up the volume. Nevertheless, his reading of such personal material, added to its authenticity.

With a novelist's eye for detail Auster makes his world come alive. Many times I found myself saying, "I remember that!" His boy scout uniform or the scent of the spring air in southern France, driving in a blizzard in Minnesota or the accident with a rental car in Brooklyn, the feel of his wife's skin under the covers in the morning, all of these disparate pleasures and disasters he shares with us as if we are old friends just hanging out.

He transforms the quotidian into events of interest and importance. The nastiness at a family funeral becomes a lesson in self-control. A pick-up softball game with the neighborhood kids becomes an opportunity for his mom to shine. Reading "Winter Journal" made me want to revisit my own languishing memoir with new vigor.

So please, Mr. Auster, don't stop sharing your talent with the world. I plan to go back and read your work from the beginning. Why not? I should have another twenty years in which to do it!

Paul Auster

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