Sunset Park

( 28 )

Overview

Luminous, passionate, expansive, an emotional tour de force

Sunset Park follows the hopes and fears of a cast of unforgettable characters brought together by the mysterious Miles Heller during the dark months of the 2008 economic collapse.

An enigmatic young man employed as a trash-out worker in southern Florida obsessively photographing thousands of abandoned objects left ...

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Sunset Park: A Novel

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Overview

Luminous, passionate, expansive, an emotional tour de force

Sunset Park follows the hopes and fears of a cast of unforgettable characters brought together by the mysterious Miles Heller during the dark months of the 2008 economic collapse.

An enigmatic young man employed as a trash-out worker in southern Florida obsessively photographing thousands of abandoned objects left behind by the evicted families.

A group of young people squatting in an apartment in Sunset Park, Brooklyn.

The Hospital for Broken Things, which specializes in repairing the artifacts of a vanished world.

William Wyler's 1946 classic The Best Years of Our Lives.

A celebrated actress preparing to return to Broadway.

An independent publisher desperately trying to save his business and his marriage.

These are just some of the elements Auster magically weaves together in this immensely moving novel about contemporary America and its ghosts. Sunset Park is a surprising departure that confirms Paul Auster as one of our greatest living writers.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Auster (Invisible) is in excellent form for this foray into the tarnished, conflicted soul of Brooklyn. New York native Miles Heller now cleans out foreclosed south Florida homes, but after falling in love with an underage girl and stirring the wrath of her older sister, he flees to Brooklyn and shacks up with a group of artists squatting in the borough's Sunset Park neighborhood. As Miles arrives at the squat, the narrative broadens to take in the lives of Miles's roommates--among them Bing, "the champion of discontent," and Alice, a starving writer--and the unlikely paths that lead them to their squat. Then there's the matter of Miles's estranged father, Morris, who, in trying to save both his marriage and the independent publishing outfit he runs, may find the opportunity to patch things up with Miles. The fractured narrative takes in an impressive swath of life and history--Vietnam, baseball trivia, the WWII coming-home film The Best Years of Our Lives--and even if a couple of the perspectives feel weak, Auster's newest is a gratifying departure from the postmodern trickery he's known for, one full of crisp turns of phrase and keen insights. (Nov.)
Kirkus Reviews
With a plot that encompasses war in the Middle East, economic recession and the perils of the publishing industry, a contemporary vitality distinguishes the latest from the veteran author. In many respects this novel bears the thematic imprint of Auster (Invisible, 2009, etc.)-chance, coincidence and "the imponderables of fate, the strangeness of life, the what-ifs and might-have-beens." Yet the literary gamesmanship of his metafictional narratives is less evident here, as the critical challenges of these times leave both the characters and the author with more at stake. The plot pivots around Miles Heller, son of an independent publisher and a well-known actress who divorced early in his childhood. After his stepbrother suffers a fatal accident, Miles can't shake the guilt he feels over his possible complicity and the suspicions of his stepmother, so he abandons his studies, cutting all ties with his family. A chance romance with a much younger girl returns him to New York, where he finds shelter in an abandoned building that has become something of an artist's colony. The plot unfolds from various perspectives, amid insecurities both economic and psychological, as details from the mid-1940s film The Best Years of Our Life provide cinematic counterpoint. Though one character muses that "the dark time will soon be over, and all will be forgiven," the novel's tragic foreshadowing doesn't promise a happily-ever-after ending. Sure to please Auster fans and likely to attract new readers as well.
From the Publisher
“Wise, weary and earthy, Auster has a remarkable voice…Listening to the novel would be as good as reading it.” – The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“Auster’s dry, gravelly voice has a gravitas all its own… one almost feels that Auster is himself an Auster character, blowing smoke rings in an empty room while pondering Anerica’s mysteries and minutiae.” – Publishers Weekly

“The author reads his own work with great feeling, being able to express in his voice the depths of despair that each of his four main characters is experiencing. The interaction among the four is narrated as an ‘ebb and flow’ of life and its experiences.” – Sound Commentary

The Barnes & Noble Review

Paul Auster's first book, the 1982 memoir The Invention of Solitude, opens with a grim portrait of his late father's empty house. Losing his father revived his old frustrations over how distant they had become, and he sensed a spectral chill in the home he'd come to clear out. "There is nothing more terrible, I learned, than having to face the objects of a dead man," he wrote. "When that life ends, the things change, even though they remain the same. They are there and yet not there: tangible ghosts, condemned to survive in a world they no longer belong to."

The opening pages of Sunset Park, Auster's unexpectedly searing new novel about abandoned homes and broken families, eerily echo that scene. Miles Heller is a young man who's spent years aimlessly wandering the country and flaying himself over his possible role in the death of his half-brother. We first meet him in Florida "trashing out" abandoned foreclosed homes for quick resale, and like Auster in his first book, Miles documents his visits as a way of coming to terms with the sadness he witnesses. He wants to show that the "ghosts of people he will never see and never know are still present in the discarded things strewn about their empty houses."

The connection between The Invention of Solitude and Sunset Park -- Auster's personal past and fictional present -- isn't limited to renderings of an empty armchair or a broken dish or two. Miles, like Auster, was a promising baseball player who eventually gave up the sport, and the novel is filled with ghoulish baseball arcana about players whose careers where cut tragically short. (Among the members of this creepy hall of fame is Herb Score, a pitcher for the Cleveland Indians in the 1950s whose career never recovered after a line drive smashed his face.) Miles, like Auster, has worked odd jobs, and they both fixate on a lack of love received from their fathers. One character works part-time at the PEN American Center, a nonprofit where Auster once served on the board of trustees.

It's not unusual for Auster to litter his novels with personal detail, of course. But Sunset Park isn't another self-referential puzzle: its power derives from how intensely its characters look into themselves and their pasts -- worriedly, regretfully -- in a manner that evokes the heartfelt, introspective tone of Auster's memoirs. In Solitude, Hand to Mouth, and The Red Notebook he addressed matters of maturity and family with a directness that rarely emerges in his fiction, where he's done his moral workouts in the context of steely Pomo eccentricities: the noirish riffing of The New York Trilogy, the dog's-eye-view of Timbuktu, the absurdist Travels in the Scriptorium, the stories-within-stories of Oracle Night and last year's Invisible. Sunset Park isn't "autobiographical" so much as it's borne of the same confessional spirit Auster has brought to his nonfiction.

Still, he does need some of his old tools to get Sunset Park's motor to kick. While in Florida, Miles falls for a 17-year-old girl named Pilar, whom he meets in unlikely circumstances: they're both reading the same edition of The Great Gatsby at the same park. His love is pure, but Pilar's jailbait status troubles the relationship. When Miles can't loot enough things on the job to satisfy Pilar's family, he needs to disappear for six months, until Pilar turns 18. "One call to the cops, and you're toast, my friend," Pilar's sister tells him, a bit of faux-noir the novel will soon abandon.

Miles's refuge is the Brooklyn neighborhood of Sunset Park, where his idealistic friend Bing Nathan has established a squat he shares with two other friends. Miles lapses into prison-speak to describe his life apart from Pilar, considering himself one of the "Sunset Park Four." Because he's now in the vicinity of parents he's spent years avoiding, he feels imprisoned further still. For the reader, though, it's clear there are worse fellow inmates to have. Bing runs a junkshop with the metaphorically pointed name of the Hospital of Broken Things. Ellen is a bright artist fixated on sexual themes. Alice, the member of this ad hoc family who winds up with the most significance for Miles, is a graduate student studying post-World War II crime novels and films, particularly The Best Years of Our Lives, William Wyler's 1946 melodrama about U.S. soldiers adjusting to life back home after the war -- a film that plays into her thesis that they lived in a time when "American life had to be reinvented."

Auster uses the film to underscore how complicated the definition of "happy family" is; nearly everybody in the novel registers a different opinion about it. His mother, a famous actress, "choked up at the end and cried"; Miles's father, the owner of a small but prestigious publishing house, thinks it's "propaganda" machined to argue that "everything will work out, because this is America, and in America everything always works out"; Ellen sees tragedy down the road for its characters; Miles, forever pragmatic, politely gives it a B-plus. The divergent opinions subtly underscore how much emotional distance needs to be bridged, though the entrapment theme is sometimes noisily obvious: Miles's mother is rehearsing Samuel Beckett's Happy Days, a play in which she portrays a woman buried in a mound of earth. But Auster writes with affectless sincerity when Miles's father imagines himself becoming a "Can Man," a homeless person who emerges whenever he wants to escape his existence much as his son did.

A younger Auster might've lit this scenario in neon, played up its strangeness. But Sunset Park's prodigal-son tale is somberly poignant, a study of how deeply the urge to connect runs. (The book's final section has the embracing title "All," with a chapter dedicated to each major character.) The characteristic literary references, sexual transgressions, and peculiar coincidences remain. But it's the father-son story at the core that prevails and intensifies, culminating in an ending as powerful and open to interpretation as Wyler's film. We can go home again, Auster wants us to know. But how brutally difficult it can be to face that threshold and walk in.

--Mark Athitakis

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780805092868
  • Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 11/9/2010
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 987,681
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Paul Auster

Paul Auster is the bestselling, award-winning author of 16 novels, including Sunset Park, Invisible, Man in the Dark, Travels in the Scriptorium, The Brooklyn Follies, and Oracle Night. His work has been translated into more than 40 languages. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Biography

Much later, when he was able to think about the things that happened to him, he would conclude that nothing was real except chance. But that was much later. In the beginning, there was simply the event and its consequences.

This sentence from the opening of Paul Auster's first novel, City of Glass, could also serve as a template for the author's career, both in circumstance and theme. City of Glass is perhaps the best known of Auster's postmodern detective New York Trilogy, which is rounded out by Ghosts and The Locked Room. Though the novels nominally involve cases to be solved, at base they are about the mystery of identity and how easily it can be lost or altered. In City of Glass, a mystery writer mistakenly receives a phone call for detective Paul Auster and assumes his identity, becoming embroiled in a case. The trilogy was a welcome breath of fresh air for both detective stories and postmodernist writing, and it put Auster on the publishing map.

Setting out to write his subsequent novel, Auster kept in mind the subtitle "Anna Blume Walks Through the 20th Century." The result was a woman's post-apocalyptic urban journey, In the Country of Last Things. Subsequent works such as Moon Palace, The Music of Chance, Leviathan, and Mr. Vertigo offered heroes caught up in strange worlds, playing out their stories over existential subtexts. The Music of Chance carries references from Beckett's Waiting for Godot in its story about a drifter who ends up teaming with a card player named Jack Pozzi to hustle two wealthy eccentrics in a fateful poker game. In Mr. Vertigo, a boy who has the ability to levitate goes on the road in the 1920s as "the Wonder Boy," moving through a panorama of pre-Depression America.

Auster's ability to blur the line between fantasy and reality has resulted in unique stories that never operate solely as good yarns. The New York Times wrote of Leviathan -- a dead man's coincidence-ridden story, as narrated by his friend -- "Thus in the literary looking glass of Leviathan, in which things are not always what they seem, our pleasure in reading the story is enhanced by the challenge of making other connections." Auster's fondness for allegory has earned him both praise for his cleverness and criticism from reviewers who, even as they praise his talent, occasionally find him heavy-handed.

The director Philip Haas adapted The Music of Chance for the 1993 film starring James Spader and Mandy Patinkin. But it was Wayne Wang who drew Auster to the movie business in earnest, convincing him to write the screenplay for 1995's Smoke, which was adapted from the short story "Auggie Wren's Christmas Story." The film did well enough to get producer Miramax on board for a sequel bringing back star Harvey Keitel, Blue in the Face. This time, Auster not only wrote the script but co-directed with Wang; he later went full-fledged auteur with the 1998 film (also starring Keitel) Lulu on the Bridge.

In 1999, Auster made the unconventional choice of writing from a canine's point of view in Timbuktu -- although as Auster noted in the Guardian, Mr. Bones "is and isn't a dog." In telling the story of himself and his owner, a homeless "outlaw poet" named Willy G. Christmas, Mr. Bones offers a meditation on mortality, human relationships, and dreams. "If anything," Auster said in a chat with Barnes & Noble.com readers, "I thought of Willy and Mr. Bones as a rather screwball, nutty, latter-day version of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza, the befuddled knight-errant and his loyal squire." The New York Times called Timbuktu his "most touching, most emotionally accessible book."

Auster earned some of his best reviews with his tenth novel The Book of Illusions, about a widower who develops an obsession with an obscure silent-film star and is surprised with an invitation to meet the presumed-dead actor. Book magazine called it "certainly his best...the book [has] the drive and dazzle reminiscent of the classic hardboiled yarns of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett."

Auster is an author who, in both his fiction and his nonfiction, rekindles hope for the romantic, the coincidental, and the magical in everyday life. He does this not with fantastic story lines but by heightening the significance of twists and coincidences that happen to us all the time -- if we approach things in a certain light, our lives become like movies. Auster spins the projector.

Good To Know

Auster's wife Siri Hustvedt, whom he met in 1981, is also a novelist and essayist; writing about her novel The Blindfold, the Village Voice Literary Supplement called Hustvedt "a writer of strong, sometimes astonishing gifts." Auster's first wife was writer Lydia Davis.

Desperately poor in the late '70s and working unhappily as a French translator to make ends meet, Auster wrote a detective novel called Squeeze Play to make some money. He also invented a card game called Action Baseball that he tried to sell to game manufacturers. However, Squeeze Play is "not a legitimate book," he told the Guardian; it was published under a pseudonym. Later, an inheritance from his father allowed Auster the financial freedom to focus more on his writing.

Auster has enjoyed a remarkably international following, even in the days before his Hollywood projects raised his profile; his novels have been translated into several languages, and web sites from Germany to Japan pay him homage.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Paul Benjamin
    2. Hometown:
      Brooklyn, New York
    1. Date of Birth:
      February 3, 1947
    2. Place of Birth:
      Newark, New Jersey
    1. Education:
      B.A., M.A., Columbia University, 1970

Read an Excerpt

Miles Heller

-

1

For almost a year now, he has been taking photographs of abandoned things. There are at least two jobs every day, sometimes as many as six or seven, and each time he and his cohorts enter another house, they are confronted by the things, the innumerable cast-off things left behind by the departed families. The absent people have all fled in haste, in shame, in confusion, and it is certain that wherever they are living now (if they have found a place to live and are not camped out in the streets) their new dwellings are smaller than the houses they have lost. Each house is a story of failure—of bankruptcy and default, of debt and foreclosure—and he has taken it upon himself to document the last, lingering traces of those scattered lives in order to prove that the vanished families were once here, that the ghosts of people he will never see and never know are still present in the discarded things strewn about their empty houses.

The work is called trashing out, and he belongs to a four-man crew employed by the Dunbar Realty Corporation, which subcontracts its "home preservation" services to the local banks that now own the properties in question. The sprawling flatlands of south Florida are filled with these orphaned structures, and because it is in the interest of the banks to resell them as quickly as possible, the vacated houses must be cleaned, repaired, and made ready to be shown to prospective buyers. In a collapsing world of economic ruin and relentless, ever-expanding hardship, trashing out is one of the few thriving businesses in the area. No doubt he is lucky to have found this job. He doesn't know how much longer he can bear it, but the pay is decent, and in a land of fewer and fewer jobs, it is nothing if not a good job.

In the beginning, he was stunned by the disarray and the filth, the neglect. Rare is the house he enters that has been left in pristine condition by its former owners. More often there will have been an eruption of violence and anger, a parting rampage of capricious vandalism—from the open taps of sinks and bathtubs overflowing with water to sledge-hammered, smashed-in walls or walls covered with obscene graffiti or walls pocked with bullet holes, not to mention the ripped-out copper pipes, the bleach-stained carpets, the piles of shit deposited on the living room floor. Those are extreme examples, perhaps, impulsive acts triggered by the rage of the dispossessed, disgusting but understandable statements of despair, but even if he is not always gripped by revulsion when he enters a house, he never opens a door without a feeling of dread. Inevitably, the first thing to contend with is the smell, the onslaught of sour air rushing into his nostrils, the ubiquitous, commingled aromas of mildew, rancid milk, cat litter, crud-caked toilet bowls, and food rotting on the kitchen counter. Not even fresh air pouring in through open windows can wipe out the smells; not even the tidiest, most circumspect removal can erase the stench of defeat.

Then, always, there are the objects, the forgotten possessions, the abandoned things. By now, his photographs number in the thousands, and among his burgeoning archive can be found pictures of books, shoes, and oil paintings, pianos and toasters, dolls, tea sets, and dirty socks, televisions and board games, party dresses and tennis racquets, sofas, silk lingerie, caulking guns, thumbtacks, plastic action figures, tubes of lipstick, rifles, discolored mattresses, knives and forks, poker chips, a stamp collection, and a dead canary lying at the bottom of its cage. He has no idea why he feels compelled to take these pictures. He understands that it is an empty pursuit, of no possible benefit to anyone, and yet each time he walks into a house, he senses that the things are calling out to him, speaking to him in the voices of the people who are no longer there, asking him to be looked at one last time before they are carted away. The other members of the crew make fun of him for this obsessive picture taking, but he pays them no heed. They are of little account in his opinion, and he despises them all. Brain-dead Victor, the crew boss; stuttering, chatterbox Paco; and fat, wheezing Freddy—the three musketeers of doom. The law says that all salvageable objects above a certain value must be handed over to the bank, which is obliged to return them to their owners, but his co-workers grab whatever they please and never give it a second thought. They consider him a fool for turning his back on these spoils—the bottles of whiskey, the radios, the CD players, the archery equipment, the dirty magazines—but all he wants are his pictures—not things, but the pictures of things. For some time now, he has made it his business to say as little as possible when he is on the job. Paco and Freddy have taken to calling him El Mudo.

He is twenty-eight years old, and to the best of his knowledge he has no ambitions. No burning ambitions, in any case, no clear idea of what building a plausible future might entail for him. He knows that he will not stay in Florida much longer, that the moment is coming when he will feel the need to move on again, but until that need ripens into a necessity to act, he is content to remain in the present and not look ahead. If he has accomplished anything in the seven and a half years since he quit college and struck out on his own, it is this ability to live in the present, to confine himself to the here and now, and although it might not be the most laudable accomplishment one can think of, it has required considerable discipline and self-control for him to achieve it. To have no plans, which is to say, to have no longings or hopes, to be satisfied with your lot, to accept what the world doles out to you from one sunrise to the next—in order to live like that you must want very little, as little as humanly possible.

Bit by bit, he has pared down his desires to what is now approaching a bare minimum. He has cut out smoking and drinking, he no longer eats in restaurants, he does not own a television, a radio, or a computer. He would like to trade in his car for a bicycle, but he can't get rid of the car, since the distances he must travel for work are too great. The same applies to the cell phone he carries around in his pocket, which he would dearly love to toss in the garbage, but he needs it for work as well and therefore can't do without it. The digital camera was an indulgence, perhaps, but given the drear and slog of the endless trash-out rut, he feels it is saving his life. His rent is low, since he lives in a small apartment in a poor neighborhood, and beyond spending money on bedrock necessities, the only luxury he allows himself is buying books, paperback books, mostly novels, American novels, British novels, foreign novels in translation, but in the end books are not luxuries so much as necessities, and reading is an addiction he has no wish to be cured of.

If not for the girl, he would probably leave before the month was out. He has saved up enough money to go anywhere he wants, and there is no question that he has had his fill of the Florida sun—which, after much study, he now believes does the soul more harm than good. It is a Machiavellian sun in his opinion, a hypocritical sun, and the light it generates does not illuminate things but obscures them—blinding you with its constant, overbright effulgences, pounding on you with its blasts of vaporous humidity, destabilizing you with its miragelike reflections and shimmering waves of nothingness. It is all glitter and dazzle, but it offers no substance, no tranquillity, no respite. Still, it was under this sun that he first saw the girl, and because he can't talk himself into giving her up, he continues to live with the sun and try to make his peace with it.

Her name is Pilar Sanchez, and he met her six months ago in a public park, a purely accidental meeting late one Saturday afternoon in the middle of May, the unlikeliest of unlikely encounters. She was sitting on the grass reading a book, and not ten feet away from her he too was sitting on the grass reading a book, which happened to be the same book as hers, the same book in an identical soft-cover edition, The Great Gatsby, which he was reading for the third time since his father gave it to him as a present on his sixteenth birthday. He had been sitting there for twenty or thirty minutes, inside the book and therefore walled off from his surroundings, when he heard someone laugh. He turned, and in that first, fatal glimpse of her, as she sat there smiling at him and pointing to the title of her book, he guessed that she was even younger than sixteen, just a girl, really, and a little girl at that, a small adolescent girl wearing tight, cut-off shorts, sandals, and a skimpy halter top, the same clothes worn by every half-attractive girl throughout the lower regions of hot, sun-spangled Florida. No more than a baby, he said to himself, and yet there she was with her smooth, uncovered limbs and alert, smiling face, and he who rarely smiles at anyone or anything looked into her dark, animated eyes and smiled back at her.

Six months later, she is still underage. Her driver's license says she is seventeen, that she won't be turning eighteen until May, and therefore he must act cautiously with her in public, avoid at all costs doing anything that might arouse the suspicions of the prurient, for a single telephone call to the police from some riled-up busybody could easily land him in jail. Every morning that is not a weekend morning or a holiday morning, he drives her to John F. Kennedy High School, where she is in her senior year and doing well, with aspirations for college and a future life as a registered nurse, but he does not drop her off in front of the building. That would be too dangerous. Some teacher or school official could catch sight of them in the car together and raise the alarm, and so he glides to a halt some three or four blocks before they reach Kennedy and lets her off there. He does not kiss her good-bye. He does not touch her. She is saddened by his restraint, since in her own mind she is already a full-grown woman, but she accepts this sham indifference because he has told her she must accept it.

Pilar's parents were killed in a car wreck two years ago, and until she moved into his apartment after the school year ended last June, she lived with her three older sisters in the family house. Twenty-year-old Maria, twenty-three-year-old Teresa, and twenty-five-year-old Angela. Maria is enrolled in a community college, studying to become a beautician. Teresa works as a teller at a local bank. Angela, the prettiest of the bunch, is a hostess in a cocktail lounge. According to Pilar, she sometimes sleeps with the customers for money. Pilar hastens to add that she loves Angela, that she loves all her sisters, but she's glad to have left the house now, which is filled with too many memories of her mother and father, and besides, she can't stop herself, but she's angry at Angela for doing what she does, she considers it a sin for a woman to sell her body, and it's a relief not to be arguing with her about it anymore. Yes, she says to him, his apartment is a shabby little nothing of a place, the house is much bigger and more comfortable, but the apartment doesn't have eighteen-month-old Carlos Junior in it, and that too is an immense relief. Teresa's son isn't a bad child as far as children go, of course, and what can Teresa do with her husband stationed in Iraq and her long hours at the bank, but that doesn't give her the right to pawn off babysitting duties on her kid sister every other day of the week. Pilar wanted to be a good sport, but she couldn't help resenting it. She needs time to be alone and to study, she wants to make something of herself, and how can she do that if she's busy changing dirty diapers? Babies are fine for other people, but she wants no part of them. Thanks, she says, but no thanks.

He marvels at her spirit and intelligence. Even on the first day, when they sat in the park talking about The Great Gatsby, he was impressed that she was reading the book for herself and not because a teacher had assigned it at school, and then, as the conversation continued, doubly impressed when she began to argue that the most important character in the book was not Daisy or Tom or even Gatsby himself but Nick Carraway. He asked her to explain. Because he's the one who tells the story, she said. He's the only character with his feet on the ground, the only one who can look outside of himself. The others are all lost and shallow people, and without Nick's compassion and understanding, we wouldn't be able to feel anything for them. The book depends on Nick. If the story had been told by an omniscient narrator, it wouldn't work half as well as it does.

Omniscient narrator. She knows what the term means, just as she understands what it is to talk about suspension of disbelief, biogenesis, antilogarithms, and Brown v. Board of Education. How is it possible, he wonders, for a young girl like Pilar Sanchez, whose Cuban-born father worked as a letter carrier all his life, whose three older sisters dwell contentedly in a bog of humdrum daily routines, to have turned out so differently from the rest of her family? Pilar wants to know things, she has plans, she works hard, and he is more than happy to encourage her, to do whatever he can to help advance her education. From the day she left home and moved in with him, he has been drilling her on the finer points of how to score well on the SATs, has vetted every one of her homework assignments, has taught her the rudiments of calculus (which is not offered by her high school), and has read dozens of novels, short stories, and poems out loud to her. He, the young man without ambitions, the college dropout who spurned the trappings of his once privileged life, has taken it upon himself to become ambitious for her, to push her as far as she is willing to go. The first priority is college, a good college with a full scholarship, and once she is in, he feels the rest will take care of itself. At the moment, she is dreaming of becoming a registered nurse, but things will eventually change, he is certain of that, and he is fully confident that she has it in her to go on to medical school one day and become a doctor.

She was the one who proposed moving in with him. It never would have occurred to him to suggest such an audacious plan himself, but Pilar was determined, at once driven by a desire to escape and enthralled by the prospect of sleeping with him every night, and after she begged him to go to Angela, the major breadwinner of the clan and therefore the one with the final word on all family decisions, he met with the oldest Sanchez girl and managed to talk her into it. She was reluctant at first, claiming that Pilar was too young and inexperienced to consider such a momentous step. Yes, she knew her sister was in love with him, but she didn't approve of that love because of the difference in their ages, which meant that sooner or later he would grow bored with his adolescent plaything and leave her with a broken heart. He answered that it would probably end up being the reverse, that he would be the one left with a broken heart. Then, brushing aside all further talk of hearts and feelings, he presented his case in purely practical terms. Pilar didn't have a job, he said, she was a drag on the family finances, and he was in a position to support her and take that burden off their hands. It wasn't as if he would be abducting her to China, after all. Their house was only a fifteen-minute walk from his apartment, and they could see her as often as they liked. To clinch the bargain, he offered them presents, any number of things they craved but were too strapped to buy for themselves. Much to the shock and jeering amusement of the three clowns at work, he temporarily reversed his stance on the do's and don'ts of trash-out etiquette, and over the next week he calmly filched an all-but-brand-new flat-screen TV, a top-of-the-line electric coffeemaker, a red tricycle, thirty-six films (including a boxed collector's set of the Godfather movies), a professional-quality makeup mirror, and a set of crystal wineglasses, which he duly presented to Angela and her sisters as an expression of his gratitude. In other words, Pilar now lives with him because he bribed the family. He bought her.

Yes, she is in love with him, and yes, in spite of his qualms and inner hesitations, he loves her back, however improbable that might seem to him. Note here for the record that he is not someone with a special fixation on young girls. Until now, all the women in his life have been more or less his own age. Pilar therefore does not represent an embodiment of some ideal female type for him—she is merely herself, a small piece of luck he stumbled across one afternoon in a public park, an exception to every rule. Nor can he explain to himself why he is attracted to her. He admires her intelligence, yes, but that is finally of scant importance, since he has admired the intelligence of other women before her without feeling the least bit attracted to them. He finds her pretty, but not exceptionally pretty, not beautiful in any objective way (although it could also be argued that every seventeen-year-old girl is beautiful, for the simple reason that all youth is beautiful). But no matter. He has not fallen for her because of her body or because of her mind. What is it, then? What holds him here when everything tells him he should leave? Because of the way she looks at him, perhaps, the ferocity of her gaze, the rapt intensity in her eyes when she listens to him talk, a feeling that she is entirely present when they are together, that he is the only person who exists for her on the face of the earth.

Sometimes, when he takes out his camera and shows her his pictures of the abandoned things, her eyes fill up with tears. There is a soft, sentimental side to her that is almost comic, he feels, and yet he is moved by that softness in her, that vulnerability to the aches of others, and because she can also be so tough, so talkative and full of laughter, he can never predict what part of her will surge forth at any given moment. It can be trying in the short run, but in the long run he feels it is all to the good. He who has denied himself so much for so many years, who has been so stolid in his abnegations, who has taught himself to rein in his temper and drift through the world with cool, stubborn detachment has slowly come back to life in the face of her emotional excesses, her combustibility, her mawkish tears when confronted by the image of an abandoned teddy bear, a broken bicycle, or a vase of wilted flowers.

The first time they went to bed together, she assured him she was no longer a virgin. He took her at her word, but when the moment came for him to enter her, she pushed him away and told him he mustn't do that. The mommy hole was off-limits, she said, absolutely forbidden to male members. Tongues and fingers were acceptable, but not members, under no condition at any time, not ever. He had no idea what she was talking about. He was wearing a condom, wasn't he? They were protected, and there was no need to worry about anything. Ah, she said, but that's where he was wrong. Teresa and her husband always believed in condoms too, and look what happened to them. Nothing was more frightening to Pilar than the thought of becoming pregnant, and she would never risk her fate by trusting in one of those iffy rubbers. She would rather slit her wrists or jump off a bridge than get herself knocked up. Did he understand? Yes, he understood, but what was the alternative? The funny hole, she said. Angela had told her about it, and he had to admit that from a strictly biological and medical standpoint it was the one truly safe form of birth control in the world.

For six months now, he has abided by her wishes, restricting all member penetration to her funny hole and putting nothing more than tongue and fingers in her mommy hole. Such are the anomalies and idiosyncrasies of their love life, which is nevertheless a rich love life, a splendid erotic partnership that shows no signs of abating anytime soon. In the end, it is this sexual complicity that binds him fast to her and holds him in the hot nowhere-land of ruined and empty houses. He is bewitched by her skin. He is a prisoner of her ardent young mouth. He is at home in her body, and if he ever finds the courage to leave, he knows he will regret it to the end of his days.

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First Chapter

Sunset Park

A Novel
By Paul Auster

Henry Holt and Co.

Copyright © 2010 Paul Auster
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780805092868

Miles Heller

-

1

For almost a year now, he has been taking photographs of abandoned things. There are at least two jobs every day, sometimes as many as six or seven, and each time he and his cohorts enter another house, they are confronted by the things, the innumerable cast-off things left behind by the departed families. The absent people have all fled in haste, in shame, in confusion, and it is certain that wherever they are living now (if they have found a place to live and are not camped out in the streets) their new dwellings are smaller than the houses they have lost. Each house is a story of failure—of bankruptcy and default, of debt and foreclosure—and he has taken it upon himself to document the last, lingering traces of those scattered lives in order to prove that the vanished families were once here, that the ghosts of people he will never see and never know are still present in the discarded things strewn about their empty houses.

The work is called trashing out, and he belongs to a four-man crew employed by the Dunbar Realty Corporation, which subcontracts its "home preservation" services to the local banks that now own the properties in question. The sprawling flatlands of south Florida are filled with these orphaned structures, and because it is in the interest of the banks to resell them as quickly as possible, the vacated houses must be cleaned, repaired, and made ready to be shown to prospective buyers. In a collapsing world of economic ruin and relentless, ever-expanding hardship, trashing out is one of the few thriving businesses in the area. No doubt he is lucky to have found this job. He doesn't know how much longer he can bear it, but the pay is decent, and in a land of fewer and fewer jobs, it is nothing if not a good job.

In the beginning, he was stunned by the disarray and the filth, the neglect. Rare is the house he enters that has been left in pristine condition by its former owners. More often there will have been an eruption of violence and anger, a parting rampage of capricious vandalism—from the open taps of sinks and bathtubs overflowing with water to sledge-hammered, smashed-in walls or walls covered with obscene graffiti or walls pocked with bullet holes, not to mention the ripped-out copper pipes, the bleach-stained carpets, the piles of shit deposited on the living room floor. Those are extreme examples, perhaps, impulsive acts triggered by the rage of the dispossessed, disgusting but understandable statements of despair, but even if he is not always gripped by revulsion when he enters a house, he never opens a door without a feeling of dread. Inevitably, the first thing to contend with is the smell, the onslaught of sour air rushing into his nostrils, the ubiquitous, commingled aromas of mildew, rancid milk, cat litter, crud-caked toilet bowls, and food rotting on the kitchen counter. Not even fresh air pouring in through open windows can wipe out the smells; not even the tidiest, most circumspect removal can erase the stench of defeat.

Then, always, there are the objects, the forgotten possessions, the abandoned things. By now, his photographs number in the thousands, and among his burgeoning archive can be found pictures of books, shoes, and oil paintings, pianos and toasters, dolls, tea sets, and dirty socks, televisions and board games, party dresses and tennis racquets, sofas, silk lingerie, caulking guns, thumbtacks, plastic action figures, tubes of lipstick, rifles, discolored mattresses, knives and forks, poker chips, a stamp collection, and a dead canary lying at the bottom of its cage. He has no idea why he feels compelled to take these pictures. He understands that it is an empty pursuit, of no possible benefit to anyone, and yet each time he walks into a house, he senses that the things are calling out to him, speaking to him in the voices of the people who are no longer there, asking him to be looked at one last time before they are carted away. The other members of the crew make fun of him for this obsessive picture taking, but he pays them no heed. They are of little account in his opinion, and he despises them all. Brain-dead Victor, the crew boss; stuttering, chatterbox Paco; and fat, wheezing Freddy—the three musketeers of doom. The law says that all salvageable objects above a certain value must be handed over to the bank, which is obliged to return them to their owners, but his co-workers grab whatever they please and never give it a second thought. They consider him a fool for turning his back on these spoils—the bottles of whiskey, the radios, the CD players, the archery equipment, the dirty magazines—but all he wants are his pictures—not things, but the pictures of things. For some time now, he has made it his business to say as little as possible when he is on the job. Paco and Freddy have taken to calling him El Mudo.

He is twenty-eight years old, and to the best of his knowledge he has no ambitions. No burning ambitions, in any case, no clear idea of what building a plausible future might entail for him. He knows that he will not stay in Florida much longer, that the moment is coming when he will feel the need to move on again, but until that need ripens into a necessity to act, he is content to remain in the present and not look ahead. If he has accomplished anything in the seven and a half years since he quit college and struck out on his own, it is this ability to live in the present, to confine himself to the here and now, and although it might not be the most laudable accomplishment one can think of, it has required considerable discipline and self-control for him to achieve it. To have no plans, which is to say, to have no longings or hopes, to be satisfied with your lot, to accept what the world doles out to you from one sunrise to the next—in order to live like that you must want very little, as little as humanly possible.

Bit by bit, he has pared down his desires to what is now approaching a bare minimum. He has cut out smoking and drinking, he no longer eats in restaurants, he does not own a television, a radio, or a computer. He would like to trade in his car for a bicycle, but he can't get rid of the car, since the distances he must travel for work are too great. The same applies to the cell phone he carries around in his pocket, which he would dearly love to toss in the garbage, but he needs it for work as well and therefore can't do without it. The digital camera was an indulgence, perhaps, but given the drear and slog of the endless trash-out rut, he feels it is saving his life. His rent is low, since he lives in a small apartment in a poor neighborhood, and beyond spending money on bedrock necessities, the only luxury he allows himself is buying books, paperback books, mostly novels, American novels, British novels, foreign novels in translation, but in the end books are not luxuries so much as necessities, and reading is an addiction he has no wish to be cured of.

If not for the girl, he would probably leave before the month was out. He has saved up enough money to go anywhere he wants, and there is no question that he has had his fill of the Florida sun—which, after much study, he now believes does the soul more harm than good. It is a Machiavellian sun in his opinion, a hypocritical sun, and the light it generates does not illuminate things but obscures them—blinding you with its constant, overbright effulgences, pounding on you with its blasts of vaporous humidity, destabilizing you with its miragelike reflections and shimmering waves of nothingness. It is all glitter and dazzle, but it offers no substance, no tranquillity, no respite. Still, it was under this sun that he first saw the girl, and because he can't talk himself into giving her up, he continues to live with the sun and try to make his peace with it.

Her name is Pilar Sanchez, and he met her six months ago in a public park, a purely accidental meeting late one Saturday afternoon in the middle of May, the unlikeliest of unlikely encounters. She was sitting on the grass reading a book, and not ten feet away from her he too was sitting on the grass reading a book, which happened to be the same book as hers, the same book in an identical soft-cover edition, The Great Gatsby, which he was reading for the third time since his father gave it to him as a present on his sixteenth birthday. He had been sitting there for twenty or thirty minutes, inside the book and therefore walled off from his surroundings, when he heard someone laugh. He turned, and in that first, fatal glimpse of her, as she sat there smiling at him and pointing to the title of her book, he guessed that she was even younger than sixteen, just a girl, really, and a little girl at that, a small adolescent girl wearing tight, cut-off shorts, sandals, and a skimpy halter top, the same clothes worn by every half-attractive girl throughout the lower regions of hot, sun-spangled Florida. No more than a baby, he said to himself, and yet there she was with her smooth, uncovered limbs and alert, smiling face, and he who rarely smiles at anyone or anything looked into her dark, animated eyes and smiled back at her.

Six months later, she is still underage. Her driver's license says she is seventeen, that she won't be turning eighteen until May, and therefore he must act cautiously with her in public, avoid at all costs doing anything that might arouse the suspicions of the prurient, for a single telephone call to the police from some riled-up busybody could easily land him in jail. Every morning that is not a weekend morning or a holiday morning, he drives her to John F. Kennedy High School, where she is in her senior year and doing well, with aspirations for college and a future life as a registered nurse, but he does not drop her off in front of the building. That would be too dangerous. Some teacher or school official could catch sight of them in the car together and raise the alarm, and so he glides to a halt some three or four blocks before they reach Kennedy and lets her off there. He does not kiss her good-bye. He does not touch her. She is saddened by his restraint, since in her own mind she is already a full-grown woman, but she accepts this sham indifference because he has told her she must accept it.

Pilar's parents were killed in a car wreck two years ago, and until she moved into his apartment after the school year ended last June, she lived with her three older sisters in the family house. Twenty-year-old Maria, twenty-three-year-old Teresa, and twenty-five-year-old Angela. Maria is enrolled in a community college, studying to become a beautician. Teresa works as a teller at a local bank. Angela, the prettiest of the bunch, is a hostess in a cocktail lounge. According to Pilar, she sometimes sleeps with the customers for money. Pilar hastens to add that she loves Angela, that she loves all her sisters, but she's glad to have left the house now, which is filled with too many memories of her mother and father, and besides, she can't stop herself, but she's angry at Angela for doing what she does, she considers it a sin for a woman to sell her body, and it's a relief not to be arguing with her about it anymore. Yes, she says to him, his apartment is a shabby little nothing of a place, the house is much bigger and more comfortable, but the apartment doesn't have eighteen-month-old Carlos Junior in it, and that too is an immense relief. Teresa's son isn't a bad child as far as children go, of course, and what can Teresa do with her husband stationed in Iraq and her long hours at the bank, but that doesn't give her the right to pawn off babysitting duties on her kid sister every other day of the week. Pilar wanted to be a good sport, but she couldn't help resenting it. She needs time to be alone and to study, she wants to make something of herself, and how can she do that if she's busy changing dirty diapers? Babies are fine for other people, but she wants no part of them. Thanks, she says, but no thanks.

He marvels at her spirit and intelligence. Even on the first day, when they sat in the park talking about The Great Gatsby, he was impressed that she was reading the book for herself and not because a teacher had assigned it at school, and then, as the conversation continued, doubly impressed when she began to argue that the most important character in the book was not Daisy or Tom or even Gatsby himself but Nick Carraway. He asked her to explain. Because he's the one who tells the story, she said. He's the only character with his feet on the ground, the only one who can look outside of himself. The others are all lost and shallow people, and without Nick's compassion and understanding, we wouldn't be able to feel anything for them. The book depends on Nick. If the story had been told by an omniscient narrator, it wouldn't work half as well as it does.

Omniscient narrator. She knows what the term means, just as she understands what it is to talk about suspension of disbelief, biogenesis, antilogarithms, and Brown v. Board of Education. How is it possible, he wonders, for a young girl like Pilar Sanchez, whose Cuban-born father worked as a letter carrier all his life, whose three older sisters dwell contentedly in a bog of humdrum daily routines, to have turned out so differently from the rest of her family? Pilar wants to know things, she has plans, she works hard, and he is more than happy to encourage her, to do whatever he can to help advance her education. From the day she left home and moved in with him, he has been drilling her on the finer points of how to score well on the SATs, has vetted every one of her homework assignments, has taught her the rudiments of calculus (which is not offered by her high school), and has read dozens of novels, short stories, and poems out loud to her. He, the young man without ambitions, the college dropout who spurned the trappings of his once privileged life, has taken it upon himself to become ambitious for her, to push her as far as she is willing to go. The first priority is college, a good college with a full scholarship, and once she is in, he feels the rest will take care of itself. At the moment, she is dreaming of becoming a registered nurse, but things will eventually change, he is certain of that, and he is fully confident that she has it in her to go on to medical school one day and become a doctor.

She was the one who proposed moving in with him. It never would have occurred to him to suggest such an audacious plan himself, but Pilar was determined, at once driven by a desire to escape and enthralled by the prospect of sleeping with him every night, and after she begged him to go to Angela, the major breadwinner of the clan and therefore the one with the final word on all family decisions, he met with the oldest Sanchez girl and managed to talk her into it. She was reluctant at first, claiming that Pilar was too young and inexperienced to consider such a momentous step. Yes, she knew her sister was in love with him, but she didn't approve of that love because of the difference in their ages, which meant that sooner or later he would grow bored with his adolescent plaything and leave her with a broken heart. He answered that it would probably end up being the reverse, that he would be the one left with a broken heart. Then, brushing aside all further talk of hearts and feelings, he presented his case in purely practical terms. Pilar didn't have a job, he said, she was a drag on the family finances, and he was in a position to support her and take that burden off their hands. It wasn't as if he would be abducting her to China, after all. Their house was only a fifteen-minute walk from his apartment, and they could see her as often as they liked. To clinch the bargain, he offered them presents, any number of things they craved but were too strapped to buy for themselves. Much to the shock and jeering amusement of the three clowns at work, he temporarily reversed his stance on the do's and don'ts of trash-out etiquette, and over the next week he calmly filched an all-but-brand-new flat-screen TV, a top-of-the-line electric coffeemaker, a red tricycle, thirty-six films (including a boxed collector's set of the Godfather movies), a professional-quality makeup mirror, and a set of crystal wineglasses, which he duly presented to Angela and her sisters as an expression of his gratitude. In other words, Pilar now lives with him because he bribed the family. He bought her.

Yes, she is in love with him, and yes, in spite of his qualms and inner hesitations, he loves her back, however improbable that might seem to him. Note here for the record that he is not someone with a special fixation on young girls. Until now, all the women in his life have been more or less his own age. Pilar therefore does not represent an embodiment of some ideal female type for him—she is merely herself, a small piece of luck he stumbled across one afternoon in a public park, an exception to every rule. Nor can he explain to himself why he is attracted to her. He admires her intelligence, yes, but that is finally of scant importance, since he has admired the intelligence of other women before her without feeling the least bit attracted to them. He finds her pretty, but not exceptionally pretty, not beautiful in any objective way (although it could also be argued that every seventeen-year-old girl is beautiful, for the simple reason that all youth is beautiful). But no matter. He has not fallen for her because of her body or because of her mind. What is it, then? What holds him here when everything tells him he should leave? Because of the way she looks at him, perhaps, the ferocity of her gaze, the rapt intensity in her eyes when she listens to him talk, a feeling that she is entirely present when they are together, that he is the only person who exists for her on the face of the earth.

Sometimes, when he takes out his camera and shows her his pictures of the abandoned things, her eyes fill up with tears. There is a soft, sentimental side to her that is almost comic, he feels, and yet he is moved by that softness in her, that vulnerability to the aches of others, and because she can also be so tough, so talkative and full of laughter, he can never predict what part of her will surge forth at any given moment. It can be trying in the short run, but in the long run he feels it is all to the good. He who has denied himself so much for so many years, who has been so stolid in his abnegations, who has taught himself to rein in his temper and drift through the world with cool, stubborn detachment has slowly come back to life in the face of her emotional excesses, her combustibility, her mawkish tears when confronted by the image of an abandoned teddy bear, a broken bicycle, or a vase of wilted flowers.

The first time they went to bed together, she assured him she was no longer a virgin. He took her at her word, but when the moment came for him to enter her, she pushed him away and told him he mustn't do that. The mommy hole was off-limits, she said, absolutely forbidden to male members. Tongues and fingers were acceptable, but not members, under no condition at any time, not ever. He had no idea what she was talking about. He was wearing a condom, wasn't he? They were protected, and there was no need to worry about anything. Ah, she said, but that's where he was wrong. Teresa and her husband always believed in condoms too, and look what happened to them. Nothing was more frightening to Pilar than the thought of becoming pregnant, and she would never risk her fate by trusting in one of those iffy rubbers. She would rather slit her wrists or jump off a bridge than get herself knocked up. Did he understand? Yes, he understood, but what was the alternative? The funny hole, she said. Angela had told her about it, and he had to admit that from a strictly biological and medical standpoint it was the one truly safe form of birth control in the world.

For six months now, he has abided by her wishes, restricting all member penetration to her funny hole and putting nothing more than tongue and fingers in her mommy hole. Such are the anomalies and idiosyncrasies of their love life, which is nevertheless a rich love life, a splendid erotic partnership that shows no signs of abating anytime soon. In the end, it is this sexual complicity that binds him fast to her and holds him in the hot nowhere-land of ruined and empty houses. He is bewitched by her skin. He is a prisoner of her ardent young mouth. He is at home in her body, and if he ever finds the courage to leave, he knows he will regret it to the end of his days.



Continues...

Excerpted from Sunset Park by Paul Auster Copyright © 2010 by Paul Auster. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Reading Group Guide

About this Guide

The following author biography and list of questions about Sunset Park are intended as resources to aid individual readers and book groups who would like to learn more about the author and this book. We hope that this guide will provide you a starting place for discussion, and suggest a variety of perspectives from which you might approach Sunset Park.

About the Book

From the bestselling author of Invisible and The New York Trilogy comes a new novel set during the 2008 economic collapse. Sunset Park opens with twenty-eight-year-old Miles Heller trashing out foreclosed houses in Florida, the latest stop in his flight across the country. When Miles falls in love with Pilar Sanchez, he finds himself fleeing once again, going back to New York, where his family still lives, and into an abandoned house of young squatters in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Woven together from various points of view—that of Miles’s father, an independent book publisher trying to stay afloat, Miles’s mother, a celebrated actress preparing her return to the New York stage, and the various men and women who live in the house—“Auster seems to carry all of humanity inside him” (Jan Stuart, The Boston Globe).

About the Author

Paul Auster is the bestselling, award-winning author of 16 novels, including Sunset Park, Invisible, Man in the Dark, Travels in the Scriptorium, The Brooklyn Follies, and Oracle Night. His work has been translated into more than 40 languages. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 28 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(4)

4 Star

(15)

3 Star

(5)

2 Star

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1 Star

(2)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 28 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 29, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Mesmerizing prose with angst at its core. Auster¿s skill as a writer somehow conveys all of the insecurities we feel as adults and reminds us that we are vulnerable, fragile individuals.

    Set during the 2008 economic collapse, this is a story of love, loss and regret and what it means to be a part of something; be it big or small. The story is mainly character-driven, no huge plot points to speak of, but after just a few pages, I found that I liked Miles quite a bit. He is technically, a good guy. A bit confused and struggling to find himself, but essentially good. Although my life experiences differ from his, I found that I could easily relate to what he was feeling at any given point. I attribute that to Auster¿s writing style. That said, I was completely taken aback by the ending. The ending was appropriate, but it was sudden. There I was, hanging on Auster¿s every word, and then poof, the novel ended. What occurred to me later is that although the novel ended, the story continued. Those characters are left to continue on with their lives and as a reader, all I could do was wish them well. I¿ve read one other Auster book, Invisible and I recall a similar feeling with that one, but I liked it very much and I can say the same for this one. Sunset Park wasn¿t at all what I expected it to be, but it was well worth the read and to be honest, it¿s nice to be surprised once in a while.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted November 24, 2010

    Intriguing

    First time reading Auster. While focusing on today's younger generation, it also adressed their relationship with the aging boomers. This writer has intrigued me, and I will try other books by him.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 19, 2010

    A Good, Serious Novel

    I really liked this book and I'm not quite sure why.

    The story is simple. A man in his twenties has walked away from his family and from participating in his own life until he falls in love with an underage girl. A disparate group of people, each with his or her own quirks and problems, illegally live together in an abandoned house in Sunset Park. People nursing their own wounds cause pain in others. Nothing mysterious or suspenseful or surprising. All is tied together by the themes in the film The Best Years of Our Lives.

    So why did I like it so much? Perhaps the writing. Does this fall into that vague genre of "literary fiction"? Does that mean anything, or is it just that the writing can try too hard or be a bit pretentious as easily as it can be lyrical and poetic? And does the lack of quotation marks make it better or just harder to read? For me, the writing was often beautiful but occasionally annoying. There were a couple of small sections that I didn't like. I liked and cared about the characters and the events in their lives, they became real to me.

    I received an advance edition, so these quotes may not be the same in the published edition:

    "Does everyone live happily ever after?"

    "His rent is low, since he lives in a small apartment in a poor neighborhood, and beyond spending money on bedrock necessities, the only luxury he allows himself is buying books, paperback books, mostly novels, American novels, British novels, foreign novels in translation, but in the end, books are not luxuries so much as necessities, and reading is an addiction he has no wish to be cured of."

    How can any reader not relate to that?

    "Taking one of those pills is like swallowing a small dose of death. Once you start with those things, your days are turned into a numbing regimen of forgetfulness and confusion, and there isn't a moment when you don't feel your head is stuffed with cotton balls and wadded-up shreds of paper. She doesn't want to shut down her life in order to survive her life."

    ..."a head splitting open from the sheer force of the darkness within it, a life broken apart by the too-much and too-little of this world."

    Sunset Park is the first book I've read by this author, and I very much enjoyed it. A sample of the audio book, read by the author, was included. I appreciate a book that is read by the author because the meaning and the emphasis comes through the way that he intended. However, I prefer reading books rather than listening to them.

    I am grateful to the publisher for giving me an advance reader's edition of this book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 5, 2012

    pretty fun read

    interesting characters

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 19, 2012

    good read

    slow moving but great character development

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 4, 2012

    Anonymous

    You have to be of a different mind set to like this book. I never understood the character of Miles, what his purpose in life was. It seems he just needed to grow up, he lived in a fantasy world like a child, even his relationship with a minor, was his way of going agsinst the grain. I did not understand this story, too many characters without any character. Definitely not my style of writing. I don't know how this writer conjured up this mindless, mish mash type of story, I started skipping pages way before the last chapter, not a good thing.
    I personally do not recommend, find out for yourselves. I was surprised not to see one star ratings.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 18, 2011

    Interesting

    The story is captivating but I would really suggest that someone read it because of the writing style. Auster's tweeking of Stream-of-Consciousness writing is something that should be admired.

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  • Posted November 15, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    The Dickering Paul Auster

    Paul Auster's "Sunset Park:" Rather thinking a few snapshots of a run down building in Sunset Park will do, Paul Auster races back to his multi-million-dollar brownstone self-satisfied. Sitting at a table, a Miro or is it a Warhol, on the wall behind him, he sketches out a tale of the young and the disenfranchised not having spent a day living on his, keyword, "imagined" mean streets. And it shows. The novel is equal parts patronizing and clueless. His characters are pseudo young and quite a wide stretch the author most travel in going back thirty years to the reality of his youth. Don't count on a soft cover.

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 27, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    A masterful sketch with no extra words

    The novel's characters are drawn with the swift, sure strokes of a master and are immediately accessible, and likeable. As it happens, I began reading this shortly after I'd begun Franzen's Freedom, on which I was struggling to concentrate. I am struck by the similarities and differences between the beginning of this book and Franzen's. Franzen's novel seemed an overstuffed suitcase, the contents of which we pick up in wonder and put back, curious how these vignettes will becme relevant in the long course of the story. Auster's story is more like a briefcase of a story, each item within it immediately obvious in its usefulness to us, the readers. The writing is spare, elegant, propulsive. The novels are similar in that they tell us of an American family, and a young person becomes an adult as we read. The descriptors echo, one book with another, but I had trouble grabbing hold of Franzen's, while Auster's grabbed ME and kept me up late into the night. Books on fiction writing often say we should "show" and not "tell," but strangely, I felt Franzen was showing and Auster was telling, which is one reason why Franzen's was longer, and more digressive. There seemed nothing extra in Auster's. Franzen's is simply a different style, and while I haven't finished it yet, I expect it will yield similar truths about the human condition. If I had one regret with Sunset Park, it is that we did not see more of Pilar, who, while the youngest person in the story, in the end was the most adult. She seemed extraordinary, and we wanted to see more of the woman who could make grown men laugh, cry, sigh, and lie.

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