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Mr. Vertigo

Mr. Vertigo

4.6 5
by Paul Auster

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An enduringly brilliant tale of trial and triumph, set in America in the 1920s, from the author of 4 3 2 1:  A Novel

Paul Auster, the New York Times-bestselling author of The New York Trilogy, presents a dazzling, picaresque novel set in the late 1920s – the era of Babe Ruth, Charles Lindbergh, and Al Capone. Walter


An enduringly brilliant tale of trial and triumph, set in America in the 1920s, from the author of 4 3 2 1:  A Novel

Paul Auster, the New York Times-bestselling author of The New York Trilogy, presents a dazzling, picaresque novel set in the late 1920s – the era of Babe Ruth, Charles Lindbergh, and Al Capone. Walter Claireborne Rawley, renowned nationwide as "Walt the Wonder Boy," is a Saint Louis orphan rescued from the streets by a mysterious Hungarian Jew, Master Yehudi, who teaches Walt to walk on air. Master Yehudi brings Walt into a Kansas circus troupe consisting of Mother Sioux and Aesop, a young black genius. The vaudeville act takes them across a vast and vibrant country, through mythic Americana where they meet and fall prey to sinners, thieves, and villains, from the Kansas Ku Klux Klan to the Chicago mob. Walt's rise to fame and fortune mirrors America's own coming of age, and his resilience, like that of the nation, is challenged over and over and over again.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
It will come as no surprise to the gifted Auster's (Moon Palace, The Music of Chance) many fans that walking on air, the implausible premise of his marvelously whimsical seventh novel, is treated with convincing gravity. Walt Rawley recounts his life: an orphan born in 1924 with ``the gift,'' he was seized by his master, Mr. Yehudi, a Hungarian Jew who taught him to levitate. Yehudi takes the boy from St. Louis to his own Kansas menage, which consists of Mother Sioux and Aesop, a young black genius. (Also influencing Walt's life is classy, henna-headed Marion Witherspoon, a seductive mom figure from Wichita.) After harsh training, Walt tours with his mentor as ``the Wonder Boy,'' aka Mr. Vertigo. Crammed into this road saga is the potent Americana of myth: the 1920s carnival circuit, Lindbergh's solo, the motorcar, the ethnic mix, the Ku Klux Klan and the Mob, baseball and Kansas, ``land of Oz.'' Diverse mishaps descend, but eventually Walt glides into old age and writing. The characters speak a lusty lingo peppered with vintage slang, while a postmodern authorial irony tugs their innocence askew. The prose grows particularly electric when demystifying ``loft and locomotion.'' Implicit is an analogy between levitation and the construct of fiction: both require fierce discipline to maintain a fleeting illusion. (Aug.)
Library Journal
Rescued from the streets of St. Louis and taught to fly by Master Yehudi, Walter Rawley soon becomes a national sensation. The boy wonder foils a kidnapping by his evil uncle, but his powers of levitation suddenly wane with the onset of puberty, and he declines from miracle worker to Depression-era mobster. Auster provides a dazzling display of narrative power, but his story remains a metaphysical muddle. Fluctuating between the fabulous and the mundane, it establishes no firm foundation in either realm. If Yehudi's mysterious powers are real, why must his wards die in a Klan lynching and why must Yehudi himself resort to suicide? If the alleged powers are spurious and Auster's aging narrator is unreliable, the extent of his unreliability needs sharper definition. Auster's previous novel, Leviathan (LJ 7/92), is a much more absorbing study of the elusiveness of truth.-Albert E. Wilhelm, Tennessee Technological Univ., Cookeville
Donna Seaman
In novels such as "Leviathan" (1992), Auster has proved himself an expert in the weather of the mind and soul, particularly of the adult male variety, but here he casts all such subtlety aside to spin a tall tale about a boy who learns how to fly. The scene is St. Louis, circa 1926, and the boy is a scrappy orphan named Walter Claireborne Rawley, ward of his crude and cruel uncle Slim. When a mysterious stranger calling himself Master Yehudi asks Slim for the boy, he blithely gives him away. Walt soon finds himself in the middle of Kansas, far from his beloved St. Louis Cardinals and the action of city streets. His seemingly omnipotent master subjects him to a series of bloodcurdling trials, until, lo and behold, Walt is able to cavort in thin air. In no time, he's Walt the Wonder Boy, wowing audiences all across the country until his evil uncle Slim surfaces, looking for a payoff. Walt is our matter-of-fact narrator, ostensibly writing his memoir decades after these improbable events took place. His rags-to-riches-to-rags-to-riches story is spiked with bits of Americana, bursts of violence, condemnation of racism, and, frankly, more than a little silliness. Auster has tried some new things and conjured some curious characters, but there is something slippery about this fable. Master Yehudi, the character we want to know about most, remains annoyingly out of reach, while many other elements seem hollow or anemic. A transitional work but one that will garner attention.
Jay Cantor
Mr. Auster adopts a more vernacular style than usual (though it's a brilliantly filigreed demotic, making it, of course, highfalutin in its own way).... The author's openness to chance and laundromats could lead to the slack picaresque throughout, but his story is usually held taut by the metaphorical meanings of flight.... The story is witty, inventive in its language, and invitingly playful with its metaphors. It has a fairy tale's compulsion to it.
The New York Times
Jonathan Yardley
A charmer pure and simple…Nothing less than the story of America itself
Washington Post
The Washington Post
The author of Leviathan returns with a dazzling, picaresque, new novel in which Walter Claireborne Rawley, now an octogenarian, recounts his extraordinary vaudevillian adventures as "Walt the Wonder Boy" in 1924. "One hears every page of this novel, and sees it as well."
From the Publisher
Praise for Mr. Vertigo

“A charmer pure and simple. . .Nothing less than the story of America itself.”
– The Washington Post
“Achieves a kind of sublime craziness. . .Nobody – nobody – has produced a better parable about the condition of the national consciousness at century’s end.”
– The Boston Globe
“A rollicking tale of greed and redemption. . .Auster has created a character who will remain aloft in readers’ memories.”
– People

Product Details

Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
Sold by:
Penguin Group
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File size:
513 KB
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

Paul Auster is the bestselling author of The New York Trilogy and many other critically acclaimed novels. He was awarded the Prince of Asturias Prize in 2006. His work has been translated into more than forty languages. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Brief Biography

Brooklyn, New York
Date of Birth:
February 3, 1947
Place of Birth:
Newark, New Jersey
B.A., M.A., Columbia University, 1970

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Mr. Vertigo 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
MsOrange78 More than 1 year ago
I paid $14 for this book while out of town, and I must say I wish I could get my $14 back. While i'm not saying it's the worst book I have ever read, it's definitley not one of the best. I had high hopes based on other reviews, but was sorely disappointed. The writing style is fantastic and it is a well delivered historical fiction. However it's the story itself I had a hard time getting into. I felt like I was riding a roller coaster with this book. It was a little slow, then it got really really good, then it nose dived again, and then then kinda ended on a flat note. I wouldn't recommend this book, but I suppose based on your taste, you might enjoy it. The book store I purchased it from highly recommended it, but it just didn't do it for me.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I just finished Mr. Vertigo, and thought it was an outstanding book. It definitely, stood out from most that I have read, as it is very well written, and even after you're done it seems to stick with you!! I highly recommend it to those looking for something with more to say, than your typical 'quick' read.( Not for young children.)
Guest More than 1 year ago
oh i cannot even tell you how amazing this book is. definitely not for young kids, although the cover may seem that way (dont judge a book by its cover)- it is sooo well written. I actually have to say that is is one of the best books i have ever read. i HIGHLY reccomend this book