Reviews provided by Syndetics
Library Journal Review
Critics were quick to describe Autser's Invisible, a quaternary tale that told a contiguous narrative across a multitude of voices and authors, as a mere exercise in textual irony, lacking readability and substance. Here, the author has greater success as he returns to the four-part literary form with the coming-of-age story of Archibald -Ferguson. Set in the 20th century, this novel chronicles -Archibald's maturation through four possible, yet divergent, life paths. Family fortunes, careers, and hometowns shift and change as Archibald's life unfolds across each metaphorical fork in the road. However, one constant remains: his love for Amy Schneiderman. By interweaving each chapter into a single narrative and playing with metafiction, Auster winks at the multitude of universes contained within a single story and slyly presents the reader with essentially four drafts of a novel in progress. VERDICT Fusing the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics with the bildungs-roman literary genre, Auster illuminates how the discrete moments in one's life form the plot points of a sprawling narrative, rife with possibility. [See Prepub Alert, 7/22/26.]-Joshua Finnell, Los Alamos National Lab., NM © Copyright 2017. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Publishers Weekly Review
Almost everything about Auster's new novel is big. The sentences are long and sinuous; the paragraphs are huge, often running more than a page; and the book comes in at nearly 900 pages. In its telling, however, the book is far from epic, though it is satisfyingly rich in detail. It's a bildungsroman spanning protagonist Archie Ferguson's birth in 1947 to a consequential U.S. presidential election in 1974. Some warm opening pages are dedicated to the romance of the parents of Ferguson (as the third-person narrator refers to him throughout), Rose and Stanley. In its depiction of the everyday life of its hero, the book also gives a full history of America during this period through the eyes of Ferguson who, not coincidentally, is roughly the same age as Auster. He roots for the nascent Kennedy administration, sees Martin Luther King's peaceful resistance, and recognizes both the greatness and the iniquity in L.B.J.'s actions as president. These national events are juxtaposed against Ferguson's coming-of-age: he goes to summer camp, has a sad first love with a girl named Anne-Marie, and gets an education via his beloved aunt Mildred. One of the many pleasures of the book is Ferguson's vibrant recounting of his reading experiences, such as Emma Goldman's Living My Life, Voltaire's Candide, and Theodore White's The Making of the President, 1960. Auster adds a significant and immersive entry to a genre that stretches back centuries and includes Augie March and Tristram Shandy. (Jan.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
*Starred Review* Auster has been turning readers' heads for three decades, bending the conventions of storytelling, blurring the line between fiction and autobiography, infusing novels with literary and cinematic allusions, and calling attention to the art of storytelling itself, not with cool, intellectual remove, but rather with wonder, gratitude, daring, and sly humor. Strands of his own experiences run throughout his novels, as do recurring tropes, characters, and themes. Beginning with his cherished mid-1980s New York Trilogy and on to his sixteenth novel, Sunset Park (2010), Auster's fiction is rife with cosmic riddles and rich in emotional complexity. He now presents his most capacious, demanding, eventful, suspenseful, erotic, structurally audacious, funny, and soulful novel to date. Auster's hero and narrator is Archibald Ferguson, born to Rose and Stanley, children of Jewish immigrants, in 1947 Newark. His father and uncles run an appliance-store empire. His father owns a small repair shop. His father dies. His parents divorce and remarry. His loving mother is a small-town portrait photographer; she is a famous, museum-grade photographer. Ferguson attends public school. He attends private school. He plays baseball and basketball. He struggles with unbridled lust and loneliness. He is enthralled by Laurel and Hardy; he publishes a handwritten newspaper in grade school. He's a stellar student; he's a delinquent. At 14, he writes a precociously knowing story titled Sole Mates (presented here in full) about a pair of shoes owned by a cop. He freaks out his English teacher. He loves summer camp; summer camp is catastrophic. He has many brilliant mentors. He attends Princeton; he attends Columbia; he refuses to go to college and moves to Paris. He becomes a sportswriter, a film critic, a fiction writer. He is sexually involved with men and women. He is obsessed with Amy Schneiderman, his friend, cousin, stepsister, lover, and polestar. Confusing? That's because there are actually four Archie Fergusons. Each Ferguson is precisely the same at the genetic level and, to a large degree, in temperament and passions. His narrative voice is consistent, as is his fierce attention to life, from sensuous nuance to the spinning roulette wheel of city life to war and profound social upheavals. But the particulars circumstances, events, accomplishments, and losses vary in ways great and small. Told in alternating chapters, these four variations on a character's life are disorienting until the novel establishes a quadraphonic rhythm, and it becomes clear that Auster is conducting a grand experiment, not only in storytelling, but also in the endless nature-versus-nurture debate, the perpetual dance between inheritance and free will, intention and chance, dreams and fate. This elaborate investigation into the big what if is also a mesmerizing dramatization of the multitude of clashing selves we each harbor within. Two other prominent Jewish American male writers together, with Auster, they form a nearly three-generational spread have lately written loosely autobiographical, socially and historically conscious family sagas narrated by a boy becoming a man: Michael Chabon's Moonglow (2016) and Jonathan Safran Foer's Here I Am (2016). For Auster, 4 3 2 1 is his A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, his The Adventures of Augie March. A paean to youth, desire, books, creativity, and unpredictability, it is a four-faceted bildungsroman and an Ars Poetica, in which Auster elucidates his devotion to literature and art. He writes, To combine the strange with the familiar: that was what Ferguson aspired to, to observe the world as closely as the most dedicated realist and yet to create a way of seeing the world through a different, slighting distorting lens. Auster achieves this and much more in his virtuoso, magnanimous, and ravishing opus.--Seaman, Donna Copyright 2016 Booklist