Just what doesn’t work here is elusive. Auster has said he started this novel years ago but set it aside to ripen — so perhaps it’s a simple case of novel interuptus. Or maybe Auster is slumming too close to home, his “I love Brooklyn” cupboard raided once too often. Whatever the reason, the story is sentimentally gimpy.
Nathan Glass, a retired life insurance salesman, is looking for a “quiet place to die.” On the advice of “someone,” he returns home to Brooklyn. There, he meets a long-long nephew and an art dealer (Harry Brightman) who isn’t what he says he is. Adventures, spiked with Austerian cryptography, follow accordingly (there’s a fake manuscript, a runaway daughter, a drag queen, etc.) Glass’ inner and outer travels are rationalized because he’s writing a book of ditties called “The Book of Human Folly,” anecdotes of his checkered life adventure.
The unrolling of the novel involves near-septuagenarian Glass getting his mojo back and learning to prize life, health, and family, which he discovers aren’t quite so foolish after all. Shucks if living isn’t full of the darndest things, marvels dénouement Glass, who has to come to this realization at 8 a.m. on the morning of September 11, 2001. The cringe-inducing kicker is as forced as some of the narrative. Not vintage Auster.