The Brooklyn Follies, by Paul Auster

Scissors likes it. Paper doesn't get it. So what does Stone say?
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Mr Paper leaves his apartment. He's late for his book club at the White Horse. The book group only has two other members: Mr Scissors and Mr Stone. Usually they discuss the book under question and then go to a ball game or in search of a really nice notebook. Tonight the book under discussion is Paul Auster's Brooklyn Follies. Everyone in the group is a big fan of Paul Auster; for this trio he's the only author who really captures what their lives are like.

But although all three are Auster aficionados, there is some dissension in the group. Mr Stone is the kind of fan every writer wishes for: he enjoys every single word Auster has written, even including the detective novel he wrote before he got famous and the script for his directorial debut, Lulu on the Bridge. Mr Scissors doesn't like the film or the detective novel, but likes everything else, even the comic ones like Timbuktu or Mr Vertigo. Mr Paper doesn't like these novels, but thinks every other book is great.

When he gets to the diner, there's a surprise in store. Mr Stone has brought along his girlfriend, the pretty brunette Ms Knife. Ms Knife quite likes Paul Auster, but she's a bigger fan of his wife, Siri Hustvedt. The other two men are a bit suspicious of both Ms Knife and Siri Hustvedt, especially since the success of Hustvedt's third novel boosted her profile. Ms Knife dragged Mr Stone to watch Siri do a reading, and he was forced to admit that she was just as good a performer as her husband, if not better.

"So," asks Mr Stone, "did everyone have time to read Brooklyn Follies?" Nods all round. "Terrible title," mutters Ms Knife. Scissors and Paper glare at her. "So what do we think?"

The group were delighted with Auster's last book, Oracle Night, which Stone believed was Auster's best to date. This angered Scissors, who prefers the author's early work. There is serious dissent over Brooklyn Follies. Paper believes this novel represents a serious decline in quality from Oracle Night, and although obviously better than Timbuktu and Mr Vertigo, it proves once again that this essentially profoundly serious author has no real talent for comedy. Scissors argues that Paper has misunderstood the book, and that while the novel has many funny scenes and moments, the key to comprehending the book is the final paragraph which indicates that this is a pre-9/11 novel, and that Brooklyn Follies gains enormous gravity from the fact that Auster seems to be saying that it is no longer possible to write these sort of inconsequential comedies. For some reason this infuriates Ms Knife, who claims that such a reading destroys any pleasure she got from the book. Mr Stone explains that he only let Ms Knife come along tonight because she enjoyed Brooklyn Follies so much and he brought her long as back-up in case Paper hated it.

Stone says that while he doesn't think Brooklyn Follies is quite as good as Oracle Night, he agrees with Scissors's reading of the text. Ignoring his girlfriend's evident exasperation, he points out that the book shares many of the themes of The Book of Illusions and Oracle Night. He points out that almost every Auster novel has political ramifications, and while the author has become increasingly outspoken of late (they all remember him being very depressed about the current state of America at a recent reading), this novel is a beautiful marriage of a newer humanistic concern with the hardboiled concerns of his early novels. He asks the group why, if this was a mere shaggy-dog story, would Auster set it against the backdrop of the contested US election of 2000? He reminds them that Nathan, the narrator of the novel, is in remission from lung cancer, and this preoccupation with disease is a recurrent feature of Auster's recent work. He forces them to acknowledge that the fates of Auster's characters are always significant, and while in the past he has locked them inside rooms or forced them to build insignificant walls, here it is the entire American nation which is imprisoned, and that such a stark conclusion really makes this an utterly despairing novel.

Ms Knife has stuck her fingers in her ears and is pretending she can't hear her boyfriend. She's always found this crowd too gloomy, and thinks there is something unhealthy about their slavish devotion to one author. She suspects they would find her favourite character in the novel (Lucy, the little girl who refuses to speak) too whimsical a touch, and although she believes the other two are both bachelors, doubts they will admit that they were moved by the romantic misadventures of Tom, particularly his unrequited love for a woman he calls BPM (the Beautiful Perfect Mother).

When she removes her fingers they have moved on from judging the whole book and Paper is arguing that he dislikes the subplot about a forged manuscript of The Scarlet Letter, explaining that while he has enjoyed the references to American greats in previous novels, he feels that Auster has moved beyond this, and it disappoints him that the author should be trying to sneak into the canon through association. This outrages the rest of the table, who are grateful that Auster has led them on to reading Thoreau and Hawthorne and Melville, and see these references as a charming counterpoint to Auster's borrowings from more lowbrow source material.

Before long, everyone is drunk and Ms Knife is tapping Stone's sleeve, urging him to leave. Although she feels that Auster is an author who can be enjoyed equally by both sexes, there's something about him that brings out the worst in these men (maybe it's the number of his novels that feature a protagonist boasting about his success with women) and she wants to leave before they completely obliterate her warm memories of the novel. Stone nods, throws 30 dollars on the table to cover their drinks and follows her into the night.

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