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Reading Roundup: The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster

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22 November 2011 | 05:00 pm

This past spring, I taught my students Paul Auster's "City of Glass" (I forced them to apply Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics to it, defying all reason), instilling in me a desire to 1) reread the graphic novel adaptation and 2) reread the rest of The New York Trilogy.  So, ages later, I finally did both:

City of Glass by Paul Auster, adaptation by Paul Karasik and David Mazzucchelli
New York: Picador, 2004 (1994). Comic trade paperback, 134 pages. Used bookstore purchase, August 2006.  Previously read, October 2006. 

I like Paul Auster, but I find his brilliance difficult to put into words; with this graphic adaptation of the first volume of The New York Trilogy, the problem is even more difficult.  All of this is appropriate, of course, for a story where the main theme is the inability (or unreliability) of language to capture truth.  When I first read this comic back in 2006, I hadn't yet read the prose novel; upon reading the prose novel some months later, I could not find anything in it that had been subtracted for the comic.  Furthermore, the addition of a visual dimension meant that there was a whole new layer of meaning.

All I can do, then, is praise Paul Karasik and David Mazzucchelli's artwork; their simple, stark style suits the narrative perfectly, and their use of transitions between panels is astounding, showing a complete mastery of the comics medium.  City of Glass is heavy with meaning in the best of ways.
The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster
New York: Penguin, 2006 (1985-86). Trade paperback, 400 pages. New bookstore purchase, January 2007. Previously read, November 2007.

The stories in here are, I think, increasingly less successful, but they're all very good.  "City of Glass" is the first and the best: a riveting tale of a man losing identity with an ending that makes you think you can almost put the whole thing together, though you never quite manage it. (Thankfully.) "Ghosts" is also quite good, the tale of a private detective with a strange assignment to simply watch someone else, which leads to the disintegration of his own identity.  This one is fun in a morose way, if that makes any sense.  "The Locked Room" is the least interesting, perhaps because it's the most grounded, and consequently, it's not possible to project yourself onto the characters to the same extent as the others.  Still, it has its moments-- and what moments they are.

It's easy to complain about Paul Auster that he doesn't make any sense, but that misses the point entirely: these are stories about a world that doesn't make any sense, and there's no other way to confront it.


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