Sunset Park, by Paul Auster

Sunset Park, the latest work by Paul Auster, is a well-crafted story set during the economic crisis of 2008. It interweaves the lives of several characters, many illegally squatting in an abandoned Brooklyn house. The location of the house is an ungentrified area called Sunset Park.

In Sunset Park, the downward economic trend is also a metaphor for the plummeting aspirations and finances of the book's characters. Miles Heller was once an ambitious college student at an Ivy League university. He still possesses the intellectual bent of his father, a literary publisher. But his life is changed irrevokably when he pushes his step-brother into the road during a heated argument. Guilt-ridden, he becomes increasingly morose and angry, finally running away in his junior year and living hand-to-mouth doing odd jobs in different states.

When the book opens, we find him working for a Florida company that clears out repossessed homes. While other employees help themselves to the once-treasured possessions, Miles takes photographs of them. It is as though he is trying to preserve the dignity of those objects as well as their owners.

But just as Miles is a slim, fastidious, and brooding man of 28, his friend, Bing Nathan, is boisterous, large, and somewhat uncouth. He is a foil. Yet, both men are guided by strong moral compasses. It is Bing who has kept in touch with the parents of Miles throughout the years of self-exile. And like Miles, Bing seeks to restore old items that are often tossed away. He owns the Hospital for Broken Things, where he frames pictures and fixes old attic treasures, relics of bygone years.

Miles ultimately leaves Florida and comes back to New York in order to escape arrest for statutory rape. He leaves the love of his life, seventeen year old Pilar Sanchez, hoping to marry her on her eighteenth birthday.

Pilar is an interesting girl, mature beyond her years. Miles tutors her, encouraging her to go to the best colleges. Certainly, she is under-age, but we never get a sense that Miles is doing anything prurient. He is nurturing, although, he does admit that his feelings for her are both paternal and sexual. It is not surprising that she is the age at which his youth ended.

Other people in the book are equally interesting. Mile's father, Morris, is well-drawn as a successful and cerebral man who has followed his son throughout his self-imposed exile. Mile's mother, a Broadway actress who abandoned him as a baby, is surprisingly sympathetic. Auster allows the reader to see her side of things, while understanding the root of Mile's temper and deep-seated anger.

The two women who share the house with Bing and Miles are rather quirky characters. Ellen Bryce is a part-time realtor and artist, coping with her own inner demons. Alice Bergstrom is her friend. She is working on her dissertation. Both women are happy to live rent-free before they move on to the next stage of their lives.

The interplay of all the characters makes this book quite interesting. Although each chapter is written in the third person, Auster's writing allows us to not feel like mere observers. We genuinely care about the characters and their fates.

Auster masterfully explores the theme of choice, and the impact our decisions have on us and those around us. At the same time, he seems to question the notion of free-will, and one wonders how many of our acts are predetermined by our inherent natures. Once again, Paul Auster has written a spellbinding exploration of the human psyche.

Check Our Catalog

Comments List

Excerpts is the library newsletter and comes out every three months. It is mailed to every Glencoe resident. Copies of the newsletter are available online (below) and at the library. Please be sure to check the library calendar for program updates.

2020 Issues

March 2020

June 2020

2019 Issues

December 2019

September 2019

June 2019

March 2019

2018 Issues

December 2018

September 2018

March 2018

June 2018

2017 Issues

December 2017

March 2017

June 2017

September 2017

2016 Issues

December 2016

September 2016

March 2016

June 2016

2015 Issues

December 2015
September 2015
June 2015

March 2015

2014 Issues
December 2014
September 2014
June 2014
March 2014

2013 Issues
December 2013
September 2013
June 2013
March 2013

2012 Issues
December 2012
September 2012
June 2012
March 2012

2011 Issues
December 2011
September 2011
June 2011
March 2011

2010 Issues
December 2010
September 2010
June 2010
March 2010

2009 Issues
December 2009
September 2009
June 2009
March 2009

2008 Issues
December 2008