Sunset Park, By Paul Auster

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The Independent Culture

"For almost a year now, he has been taking photographs of abandoned things."

Thus Paul Auster introduces us to Miles Heller, a 28-year-old house clearer living in Miami, deracinated, in self-imposed exile, hiding from a guilty secret. He alleviates the drudgery of his job by photographing the poignant artefacts left in empty houses. This being Auster territory, events move quickly. Miles falls in love but circumstances force him to flee again. He ends up sharing a squat in Sunset Park, New York, with Bing, an old friend who mends broken appliances for a living; Ellen, an aspiring and sexually frustrated artist; and Alice, a graduate writing a thesis on the film The Best Years of Our Lives – and here the narrative unexpectedly widens and we are given long sections from the point of view of each of these characters, and Miles's father too, who lives in New York and has not seen Miles for seven years. Miles knows that he must re-establish contact with his family and confront his past, but he isn't the only one with problems.

There are no minor characters in Auster's world – everyone has a rich, complicated biography and inner life, and their own dilemmas to deal with. The second half does not quite sustain the narrative impetus of the beginning; but Auster's easy, uncluttered writing is compulsively readable, and his feeling for the complexity, capriciousness, irony, and sheer damned interest of life is infectious.