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Library Journal Review
The theme of Auster's tenth novel is best summed up in the epigraph: "As Chateaubriand once stated, `[Man] has many lives, placed end to end, and that is the cause of his misery.' " This "book of illusions" shows how those many inner lives intertwine and diverge, setting off an array of possibilities. At the outset, David Zimmer, a Vermont professor of comparative literature, grieves over his wife and two sons, who perished in an airplane crash. His life changes when he stumbles upon a clip from a silent film by comedian Hector Mann, who mysteriously vanished 60 years ago. Zimmer immerses himself in researching Mann's work and soon publishes an authoritative study. His life changes again when he unexpectedly receives a letter from Mann's wife inviting him to visit her ill but still-living husband. Thus begins another quest, this time to unravel the mystery behind Mann's disappearance at the height of his success. Much of Auster's work has already probed the unpredictability of faith, and his fans are also familiar with heroes trapped in the "labyrinth of memories" and the story-within-the-story writing technique. But Auster never repeats himself, instead attacking familiar territory from a new angle to craft tales of profound dimension. Essential. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/15/02.] Mirela Roncevic, "Library Journal" (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Publishers Weekly Review
David Zimmer, an English professor in Vermont, is trying to rebuild his life-after his family perishes in an airplane crash-by researching the work of Hector Mann, a minor figure from the era of silent movies, in this enigmatic, elliptical 10th novel, one of Auster's best. As in much of the writer's fiction, the narrative revolves around coincidence, fate and odd resonances. Mann's world, like Zimmer's, collapses in a single instant, and Mann, like Zimmer, embarks on self-imposed exile as a way to deal with his grief and do penance. Mann disappeared at the height of his career in 1929, but when Zimmer's book about him is published in the 1980s, it elicits a mysterious invitation: would Zimmer like to meet Mann, who is alive and has been working in secret as actor/director Hector Spelling? The skeptical scholar is lured from Vermont by Alma Grund, who grew up around Mann and is writing his biography. As Grund and Zimmer fall in love, she fills in the decades-long gap in Mann's life-a strange American odyssey that culminated on a ranch in New Mexico where he made movies he refused to screen for anyone. As in previous novels, Auster here makes the unbelievable completely credible, and his overall themes are very much of a piece with those of earlier works: the "mutinous unpredictability of matter" and the way storytellers shape and organize unpredictability. A darker and more somber mood shadows this book; Mann and Zimmer both are tragic figures-even melodramatic-and their stories are compelling. Auster is a novelist of ideas who hasn't forgotten that his first duty is to tell a good story. (Sept.) Forecast: Auster devotees will fall upon his latest with glee, recognizing it as a worthy successor to his classic New York Trilogy. The novel should do very well in the short run-it is a BOMC and QPB selection, and foreign rights have been sold in 16 countries-but its true success may be as a staple of Auster's backlist. Author tour. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Auster's signature fascination with the capriciousness of fate and adept use of the classic story-within-the-story motif are writ larger than ever in his brilliant, sage, and suspenseful tenth novel. Here, too, is Auster's passion for film (he has three to his credit), the soulfulness of Timbuktu (1999) and I Thought My Father Was God [BKL S 15 01] (a remarkable collection of evocative real-life stories), and an entwining of the strange and the erotic, not unlike Howard Norman's Haunting of L [BKL F 15 02]. It all begins when a Vermont English professor, paralyzed with grief over the loss of his wife and young sons in a plane crash, sees a clip of silent film star and director Hector Mann's witty shtick on television and laughs for the first time in months. David embarks on an intense study of Mann's nearly forgotten work, an arduous quest given the fact that Mann disappeared at the peak of his powers, then ends up embroiled in Mann's complicated and tragic secret life after a woman with a prominent birthmark and a gun takes him to New Mexico. Auster limns Mann's many-layered cinematic and earthly worlds in mesmerizing and voluptuous detail within an artful, poignantly metaphysical, and delectably Hitchcockian tale of mayhem, murder, and myriad illusions within illusions. Donna Seaman
Kirkus Book Review
Auster's tenth novel is one of his finest: an elegant meditation on the question of whether an artist or his public "owns" the work he creates, and a thickly plotted succession of interlocking mysteries reminiscent of his highly praised New York Trilogy (The Locked Room, 1986, etc.). Narrator David Zimmer is a professor of comparative literature at a small Vermont college with an impressive resume and a promising academic future, until his wife and young sons perish in a 1985 plane crash. Following an extended period of drunken despair (eloquently and harrowingly described), Zimmer indulges a casual interest in obscure silent film comedian hector Mann, whose disappearance in 1929 has never been explained. David researches and writes a book about Mann's films (occasioning several brilliant set pieces summarizing their contents), and in 1988 receives a letter from New Mexico informing him that Hector Mann is still alive, and is interested in meeting David. The novel picks up dizzying speed as that letter (ostensibly sent by Mann's protective wife Frieda Spelling) is followed by the appearance of Alma Grund (a beautiful young woman despite a disfiguring facial birthmark), who brings David to the (now nonagenarian) Mann's southwestern ranch, spins a lavish tale of scandal and self-exile that fills in a 60-year gap, and compulsively recapitulates the former comedian's various fateful ordeals, leaving Zimmer once again bereaved and alone. The heavy excess of plot never feels arbitrary or contrived, because Auster (Timbuktu, 1999, etc.) writes with such persuasive directness about both Zimmer's conflicted death-in-life and efforts to get beyond it, and Mann's understandably buried past and quiet desperation to order and give meaning to-and eventually extinguish-his accident-strewn personal history. Further dimensions are added by Zimmer's ironically thematically related intellectual pursuits, particularly his fascination with French writer Chateaubriand's elusive, many-leveled autobiography. In many ways, a summa of Auster's entire oeuvre, and a gripping and immensely satisfying novel in its own right. Author tour