Sunset Park

Paul Auster

First SentenceFor almost a year now, he has been taking photographs of abandoned things.

There is something I find about Paul Auster’s books that is instantly likeable and endlessly readable. Just the way he draws you in and makes you keep reading and reading, all the time aware of what he is saying and how he is saying it. Never giving too much away, but rather, just enough, so you always want to come back and get more. This book is no different. It is mainly based in Sunset Park (surprise surprise), New York where Miles Heller is squatting in an abandoned house along with three other people in their mid-twenties. Miles is in hiding because his girlfriend, Pilar Sanchez, is only 17 and her sister is threatening to report them. During his time in the house he begins to question his life and the path he has chosen, wondering whether or not he should make contact with his parents again. Time passes gorgeously in this masterly novel and the tension is ratcheted up as the days and months go by and the narrators change. All the characters are complex and complete and, most importantly, believable. All in all this is a wonderful read, another fine piece of work from the American master.

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Last Sentence:   He presses the ice against his swollen hand, and as he looks at the hand, he thinks about the soldier with the missing hands in the movie he saw with Alice and Pilar last winter, the young soldier home from the war, unable to undress himself and go to bed without his father’s help, and he feels he has become that boy now,who can do nothing without his father’s help, a boy without hands, a boy who should be without hands, a boy whose hands have brought him nothing but trouble in his life, his angry punching hands, his angry pushing hands, and then the name of the soldier in the movie comes back to him, Homer, Homer something, Homer as in the poet Homer, who wrote the scene about Odysseus and Telemachus, father and son reunited after so many years, in the same way he and his father have been reunited, and the name Homer makes him think of home, as in the word homeless, they are all homeless now, he said that to his father on the phone, Alice and Bing are homeless, he is homeless, the people in Florida who lived in the houses he trashed out are homeless, only Pilar is not homeless, he is her home now, and with one punch he has destroyed everything, they will never have their life together in New York, there is no future for them anymore, no hope for them anymore, and even if he runs away to Florida to be with her now, there will be no hope for them, he has let his father down, let Pilar down, let everyone down, and as the car travels across the Brooklyn Bridge and he looks at the immense buildings on the other side of the East River, he thinks about the missing buildings, the collapsed and burning buildings that no longer exist, the missing buildings and the missing hands, and he wonders if it is worth hoping for a future when there is no future, and from now on, he tells himself, he will stop hoping for anything and live only for now, this moment, this passing moment, the now that is here and then not here, the now that is gone forever.

Last Sentence explained: Wow. What a sentence that is. More a novel in itself. Basically at the end of the book the police raid the house and Miles ends up punching one of them, forcing him, or so he believes, to go on the run again. There is far too much going on in this novel to give everything an in-depth analysis but suffice it to say that everything gels perfectly. From Miles himself, who is struggling with the fact that he pushed his step-brother in front of a car, resulting in his death, to the pervasive reference to the 1946 movie The Best Years of Our Lives. From Bing Nathan, leader-of-sorts of the squatters and proprietor of The Hospital For Broken Things, to Ellen Brice and her erotic drawings. All characters and themes are constantly in the background, even when they are not prominent and all of this is evident in the final sentence above which references so much of what has gone before. This is a novel to immerse yourself in and a novel to remember.

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