Leviathan

ISBN: 0140178139
ISBN 13: 9780140178135
By: Paul Auster

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About this book

New York Times bestselling author Paul Auster (The New York Trilogy) opens Leviathan with the tearing of a bomb explosion and the death of one Benjamin Sachs. Ben’s one-time best friend, Peter Aaron, begins to retrospectively investigate the transformation that led Ben from his enviable, stable life to one of a recluse. Both were once intelligent, yet struggling novelists until Ben’s near-death experience falling from a fire escape triggers a tumble in which he becomes withdrawn and disturbed, living alone and building bombs in a far-off cabin. That is, until he mysteriously disappears, leaving behind only a manuscript titled Leviathan, pages rustling in the wind.

Reader's Thoughts

Abraham Thunderwolf

I found this book amongst some trash last week. At first I was almost reluctant to read it, but I went to the trouble of taping it up nice despite the fact that I thought I wasn't even going to read it. Having gone that far I decided to give it a go and found it good enough not to stop reading it after 10 pages, then 20 pages, then 50 pages, even though I was at work. It's a sorta weird circtuatious story, but worth the time to read it. It made me wonder how connected we all are to each other, despite the fact that we're all not authors and artist. But who among us isn't an artist? Anyway I'm kinda drunk. I left my copy on a train, so I hope whoever found it is reading it, or at least was mystified by it for a few seconds. If I had paid the cover price for the paper back edition I would say I have made a good move. How much other stuff cost 9.95 (or whatever?) that will keep you entertained and wondering for hours on end? I've paid 60 bucks for video games that I end up hating (call of duty).

Neil Fox

Auster is a genius. Wonderfully constructed book that weaves a tale that feels like it's going to be of global significance but ends up being smaller, but no less powerful, a masterstroke. Love him

Noura Tan

It took me a while to figure out what I felt towards to this book or rather a way to articulate it into some sort of coherent review. I should start by saying that Auster changed a lot of my perspectives throughout this book (nah, not revolutionary stuff). Auster delves into these characters so deeply and invests in their habits, attitudes, feelings so much we can't help but forget that it is but a work of fiction but there was so much detail paid to these characters (and what beautiful characters they were, complex souls that breathed). I know, for a fact that I liked this book but as I slowly got deeper and deeper into Auster's world or rather his characters and the philosophy of the characters it slowly dawned on me that I felt a sort of special connection with this book that I couldn't yet explain to myself. I also like books which acknowledge the fact that they are books which made the ending better. I would've rather given this a 4.5 because the plot, albeit being great did not evoke that much emotion out of me. In the book, Auster- or rather Paul is consistently reminding us that there are gaps in his stories or that most of the information he is receiving might be false, exaggerated and I really like that? He isn't trying to mask the fact that this story isn't the most exciting, instead he rather acknowledge the gaps in his knowledge which makes it seem all the more honest and realistic. I've been searching for a book that engulfs narrative with thought and here, Auster has presented me with Leviathan. And then it hit me one night when I was on the phone with Mikhail that this is the kind of book that I would've written (I don't mean the plot). The language, his perspectives, the characters, they were all fixtures of my mind. This is almost exactly the novel I would produce if I was more articulate and had a higher ability to compile my thoughts and generate them into characters. It was this crazy, weird sense of De ja vu like MAN, I KNOW what he's talking about, I don't just understand what this guy's saying, I KNOW what he's saying. Sure, I've enjoyed pieces of fiction before this but no writer has managed to connect the way Auster has had with me and god- that is so AMAZING because I didn't even think that was possible. It feels as if Auster body jacked me and jumped forward in time and wrote a book- that sounds crazy but it feels as if this book was written for me or according to me. I can't say this novel'll make you FEEL but it'll make you think and the things that it makes you realize, the small, seemingly insignificant things… this is way too self-flattering, here I am basically saying that this guy is actually me and I wrote an amazing novel- ahh. I don't know how to make sense of this to anyone else or explain how it makes me feel but I just really enjoyed the characters in this book and how deeply Auster explored them and the widths of human nature and behavior.

Bindu Manoj

"Six days ago, a man blew himself up by the side of a road in Wisconsin,"thus starts the gripping tale of Benjamin Sachs. There are books that make you cry, ones that make you smile and sometimes laugh, some make you think and a few that refuse to leave your mind. Then there are those rare ones that leave you with a haunting , disturbing feeling that is beyond any definition. And this is one of those rare ones.As soon as author Paul Aaron catches the news item in The New York Times, he is absolutely certain about the identity of the dead man. It is confirmed once the FBI reaches him after finding a piece of paper with his name and number from the explosion site. Paul denies any knowledge about who the man could be. He knows he is just buying some time, but for him , however small that time is, he has something important to do before the man's identity is out in the open."It's not that I want to defend what he did, but since he is no longer in a position to defend himself, the least I can do is explain who he was and give the true story of how he happened to be on that road in northern Wisconsin."What follows is a brilliant narration of Paul's friendship with Sachs. From the moment they meet in a deserted bar, buying drinks for each other till both of them run out of money, there is an instant bond between the two writers. While Aaron is at the beginning of his literary career, Sachs already has a published novel to his credit, one that he wrote while in prison. He is also a well known author of regular articles in varied publications. The book takes you through the lives of both of them and their families. As Paul's life and career becomes stable, we find Sachs' life getting more and more troubled. He starts questioning his existence, he feels guilty about his wife's love for him, in fact he even feels guilty about being alive. This leads him to an attempt on his own life. And this proves to be a crucial turning point of his life.The three female characters that Auster introduces plays a pivotal role in Sach's life - his wife Fanny of twenty years, the eccentric Maria Turner whom he considers his friend and the seductive Lillian Stern. It is as though they are destined to come into his life and turn his life to a different direction at each juncture till it ends up in pieces on a cold morning by a roadside.To call it a story would be sacrilege. It is the pouring out of a bleeding heart, a futile attempt to make some sense out of the hopelessness that Aaron feels when he thinks of his friend. The more you get engrossed in the life of Benjamin Sachs, the more difficult it is to believe that this is a work of fiction. The characters are deeply etched with all the flaws and weaknesses that a normal or even a slightly abnormal human being could have. Aaron's love for his friend seeps into you as well and you end up feeling as though you know Sachs as much as Aaron did. Some might find the narrative style too descriptive, but I felt that was the real strength of the book. This is one book that will really leave you shaken for some time and even question some of the things that you believe in.Verdict : If you are looking for the normal path a plot would take with a clever play of dialogues, please turn away immediately. But, if you are someone who loves a brilliant piece of narration and characters that are so strongly developed that you end up feeling like someone close to them, this is pure gold.

Jas

The surprise reading and then finishing the book is that you really never know what you're gonna get. What is neatly set up as a detective crime story in the initial pages starts taking you through a completely different course. The premise is still to find out what happened but the truth is it is about understanding what happened. It is an examination of the human condition clothed under the wolf cover of a simple detective story. And I don't know which one is the more dangerous and hungry or more intriguing. I'm glad I've been introduced to the book and made acquaintance with Mr. Auster.

David Sweeney

WOW! WOW! WOW! No wonder Siri married him. I really think serious stalking in Brooklyn is a possibility my next trip to New York. I utterly ADORED this book. Complete satisfaction. It is not a very long book but it is incredibly dense and the narrative moves along at a good clip. This is the fourth Paul Auster I have read this year and none have been the same. BUT BUT I strongly suspect that this may not be for everyone. It is almost review proof because you really can't say much about the plot.What I can tell you is that the book starts with the sentence "Six days ago a man blew himself up in Wisconsin" but what happens after that is not what you expect. Relationships, a thriller, political comment (written 20 years ago and warning of US decay) and a very lovely twist at the end.AND finally I was up at 5am to catch the 7am to Sydney and came back at 10pm but had to update this.I would NOT recommend this as the first Auster, but I'm addicted now.... Dear Paul....,It's no What I Loved but for originality and writing it completely satisfies. (If you insist on complete plot perfection and don't like coincidence then give it a miss.)Sorry- had to fix a couple of typos, most notably NOT the first Auster to cut your teeth on - so far that would be Brooklyn Follies

Ian Paganus

A NICE NIGHT'S ENTERTAINMENT ON THE FOURTH OF JULY:Fireworks Over BrooklynWe're at a party in a modern bohemian fourth floor apartment in Brooklyn. The guests include publishers, writers, artists, film-makers, musicians and various minders, acolytes and drummers disguised as waiters. It’s July 4, 1981 (or is it 2003 or 2012 or all three, I don't know, the script doesn't say), barely twenty minutes before the fireworks are due to begin.LYDIA DAVIS (who has just arrived, it’s her second party of the night and she’s already tipsy): Hi, Sophie!SOPHIE CALLE: Bon jour, Lydia. Would you like a drink?LYDIA DAVIS: One more won’t do any damage, I guess.Sophie notices her looking at a freshly made martini on the bar.SOPHIE CALLE: Here. Take one of these.LYDIA DAVIS: A votre santé.SOPHIE CALLE: À la votre.Lydia tilts her glass and downs the martini in one smooth movement.SOPHIE CALLE: Another?LYDIA DAVIS: Why not!Don DeLillo walks past, in the direction of the kitchen. He hasn’t noticed Lydia yet. She air kisses Sophie goodbye and heads after Don, tapping him on the shoulder just as he enters the kitchen and reaches for the first hors d’ouvre on a newly-assembled tray.DON DELILLO (turning around): Lydia, you look divine, fresh from your experience with Proust.LYDIA DAVIS: It’s finished, mercifully. His sentences were so long.DON DELILLO: You must be glad they’re just a remembrance of things past?LYDIA DAVIS: In search of lost time, don’t you mean?DON DELILLO: Oh, of course, I forgot. In search of lost punctuation marks, as well, I suppose.Lydia has been watching over his shoulder, where through the kitchen window she has just spotted Paul Auster with a dazzling six foot tall blonde with an exquisite Scandinavian face who he has just met ten minutes before.LYDIA DAVIS: Don, who’s that Amazon with Paul?Don turns around to see Paul Auster sit on the railing and then swing both feet around over the top, until they dangle above the street. DON DELILLO: Oh, um, ah, that’s Siri Hustvedt, she’s a grad student in English Literature. Columbia.Now Don notices Paul wobble on the railing. He’s doing something indistinct with one of his feet or perhaps his shoes. Siri moves up behind him, nervously, placing her arms around his waist. Don thinks he notices her lips graze the nape of Paul’s neck. Or something.Lydia hasn’t noticed any of this yet, apart from Paul's presence outside the kitchen window with the blonde.LYDIA DAVIS: Don, could you hold my glass for une moment?As elegantly as one can in her state of sobriety, Lydia lifts her left leg over the waist high window sill and places her left foot on the balcony. She tries to reclaim her glass from Don DeLillo, while pulling her right leg through behind her.DON DELILLO: Careful, Lydia...But, it’s too late, the glass falls onto the kitchen floor as Lydia fails to clasp it securely, and she projects backwards into Siri, striking the vicinity of her left kidney with her elbow. Siri lets go of Paul Auster in agony, and Paul falls forward into the night sky, initially holding his hands out in a diving posture, before rocketing headlong in the direction of the street.A screaming comes up the hollow streetscape, even though barely a second has elapsed. Nobody has had time, let alone is game enough, to look down, until they hear the inevitable crash or thump.Yet, there is no crash or thump, and the screaming gets closer again.DON DELILLO (who seems to have some understanding of what’s happened and calls out): What was it like, Paul? PAUL AUSTER: Fucking amazing, Don. Can you guys grab hold of the bungee cable?Don looks at Siri and Lydia.DON DELILLO: No.TATTOOED EX-NEW ZEALAND ALL BLACK: It’s right, I’ll pull him up.LYDIA DAVIS: I don’t suppose you could leave him hanging a bit longer?DON DELILLO: My turn next.Paul Auster climbs back over the railing, the top two buttons of his Polo shirt undone and not a hair out of place.SIRI HUSTVEDT (resuming her grip on Paul Auster, this time front on): Oh, Paul, I think it’s love at first sight. PAUL AUSTER: I was only ten minutes behind you, Iris.SIRI HUSTVEDT: Iris? PAUL AUSTER: Sorry, I meant Siri, you just looked like an Iris from down there.LYDIA DAVIS: You were looking at her upside down.THOMAS PYNCHON (turning to Lydia): He must have loved her from the bottom of his arc.DON DELILLO: Tom, what are you doing here?SOPHIE CALLE (looking at Thomas Pynchon): Jump, jump!Disclaimer:No reference to the name of a real person is intended to suggest that the character is or shares any of the characteristics of that real person. Very much.REVIEW:Auster Railing SkepticismWhile I’ve never had a negative experience with any of Paul Auster’s novels, I detect a skepticism about his works on GoodReads, so was alert to what others might find questionable.Still, this book grabbed me from the first sentence and never let me go.Unlike some elements of his friend Don DeLillo that you have to excuse or laugh at, I found “Leviathan” word-perfect from beginning to end.The story is told in the first person, yet the narrator, writer Peter Aaron, is not the main character, who is another writer and Peter’s best friend, Benjamin Sachs.Stylistically, the only reservation I have is about the detail with which Peter recounts Ben’s story, which involves events and conversations (not all of them involving Peter) from over 15 years. Some of these conversations go for several pages. How did Peter remember them? As a writer, is he just a good listener? Is he just very retentive?Force of CircumstanceThe other issue which seems to concern some readers is the role of chance and coincidence in Auster’s novels.While both play a role in “Leviathan”, I think they are a secondary, not a primary concern.Coincidences occur, but they are equally confounding for the characters affected by them.They are not [just] ridiculous set-ups or convenient solutions. They form part of a continuum of circumstance and circumstances, in which “anything can happen”.For Peter, the events he witnesses are similar to what he does as an author, “writing stories, putting imaginary people into unexpected and often unlikely situations”.Auster examines individuals within their environment, some of it physical, some of it mental, some of it social.He is interested in how Free Will, Intention, Determination, Causation, Knowledge and the Desire for Certainty interact with Determinism, Chance, Coincidence, Mystery, Randomness and Uncertainty.To what extent are we in control of the events that occur around us? What if the answer is very little? What if everything is improbable and unpredictable? What is the implication for our sense of identity and self-esteem?Can we live a life of happiness?Are our lives destined to end in catastrophe?This is what’s happening at an abstract, meta-fictional level, yet the novel is written in a highly realist manner, in many places like detective fiction, as Auster tells us who-dunnit on the first page and then proceeds to tell us what.Personal PoliticsWe know from the first sentence that someone blew themselves up six days before today (which is July 4, 1990) and within pages, when two FBI agents visit Peter, we learn that it was Ben Sachs.Ben was interested in personal politics, not necessarily affiliated with any particular party, although he was idealistic and would no doubt have favoured the old-style Left Liberal Democrats over the Republicans, if he had to vote for one over the other.He was a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War and went to jail for his beliefs rather than abscond to Canada or Europe.Since then, he has grown more and more despondent as mainstream America embraced the conservative politics of Ronald Reagan and in his view betrayed the idealism of American Democracy that should be embodied and respected in the American Flag (which is now often a divisive symbol)."The New Colossus"The national icon that Sachs most objectifies and identifies with is the Statue of Liberty.It stands over New York Harbour like a new Colossus and holds the incandescent torch of Democracy and Freedom up high.However, its brightness has faded over time, and Sachs believes that this trend is symbolized by the proliferation of 130 fake miniature Statues of Liberty around the country.Sachs’ first novel is actually named “The New Colossus” after the poem that is engraved at the foot of the statue.As a boy in 1951, Sachs also experienced fear and apprehension, when his family climbed the staircase inside the statue and they grew increasingly scared of heights.Inside the WhaleThis experience of being inside and frightened leads to the second metaphor of the novel, the Leviathan itself, the great whale in the Biblical books of Job and Jonah, which Hobbes adopted as a metaphor for the State in his book of the same name.It’s interesting that the Hebrew name upon which Leviathan is based can also refer to a dragon, which in Eastern culture can be an enemy of light.Thus, in Sachs’ eyes, the name “Leviathan” symbolizes the tendency of the State to enclose and squash individuals, restrain their freedom and plunge them into darkness.No matter how much independence he shows in his personal life, he is gripped by the social and political claws of the Leviathan.As Sachs realises that his literary audience is declining and the message of his writing is going unheeded, he embraces more and more radical politics and quasi-terrorist tactics.The relatively innocent Peter Aaron sits by as he reconstructs the story of Sachs and his obsession, ultimately choosing for his own novel (and Auster’s) the name of the novel that Sachs had only partly completed at the time of his death.Reversing FallsJust as the Statue of Liberty symbolizes light and the ascent of humanity, the decline of Democracy represent a metaphorical fall from grace and a descent into darkness.However, Sachs’ childhood experience is replicated by a literal fall of his own, while attending a party to celebrate Independence Day in 1986, the 100th year of the statue's dedication.The parody at the beginning of this review is based on Aaron’s/Auster’s description of the event, which unfortunately preceded the days of widespread bungee jumping, but fortunately for Sachs was not fatal.Sachs’ initial response to his recovery is to withdraw from those around him and maintain a silence:"To be silent was to enclose himself in contemplation, to relive the moments of his fall again and again, as if he could suspend himself in midair for the rest of time – forever just two inches off the ground, forever waiting for the apocalypse of the last moment."Similarly, in his private life, his self disappears within a “sanctuary of inwardness”. His retreat and silence shelter him from danger and temptation, but equally from the full experience and exuberance of life.Ultimately, he re-engages psychically and sexually. He also becomes more engaged politically, if only as a lonely anarchist working in the darkness, dangerously, symbolically drawing attention to how America is failing its own symbols, icons and values.Beware "Leviathan"When Peter Aaron discovers that Sachs has died, he starts writing his story.Without it, he knows that the only account of Ben’s life and his activism will be the dossier prepared by the FBI agents, working inside the whale of the Leviathan, painting him as a terrorist.He rushes to piece together the reality of their shared life, under the deadline of a return visit from the FBI:"The fact is that everyone dies, everyone disappears in the end, and if Sachs had managed to finish his book, there’s a chance it might have outlived him."Ultimately, the importance of Aaron’s book, Auster’s novel, is that it encapsulates Sachs’ warning even more effectively than Sachs might have been able to do himself in the end.The novel is a warning about the oppressive power of society, conformism and the State.These forces are the ones we have to look out for, not the distractions of chance and coincidence, which after all are mere entertainments in comparison.No matter how much Free Will we might think we have, there are other, more powerful forces at work.By writing Sachs’ story, Aaron and Auster ensured that Sachs’ message, “his amulet against forgetting”, outlived him, so that we might know the danger of Leviathan.Dedication:This review is dedicated to Bird Brian and the/his courage to speak out.In the words of George Orwell (from "Inside the Whale"), he fights the temptation to perform the "Jonah act of allowing himself to be swallowed, remaining passive, accepting", in other words, "quietism".For any non/un-Americans who mightn't be familiar with it, here is the full text of the poem at the foot of the Statue of Liberty:The New Colossusby Emma LazarusNot like the brazen giant of Greek fame,With conquering limbs astride from land to land;Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall standA mighty woman with a torch, whose flameIs the imprisoned lightning, and her nameMother of Exiles. From her beacon-handGlows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes commandThe air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame."Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries sheWith silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Allison C. McCulloch

Boom, boom! Bang, bang! Reminded me a lot of Invisible. But it was a lot different. Halfway through the book I was wishing that he'd stop having the main character's friends do all the research and track their friend's story down. But frankly, by the end, I didn't mind.Solid book. By no means my favorite. But I get choked up in the strangest places. The parts that aren't sad. I'm just moved that's all. I tried to finish it on my birthday, so I could finish it on the same day as Barry, but the book was good and that just didn't happen (I finished it 3 days early).

Stefan Anders

This is a book I like to reread. I've read numerous Auster books, and this one has one of the best narrative drives where I get caught up in the world he creates and actually come to believe it exists.

Alan Chen

I love Paul Auster and this novel while not as good as some of his other works (New York Trilogy, Moon Palace) is still a gem. The story is by Peter Aaron about his best friend Oliver Sachs. It chronicles how they meet until the day Sachs blew himself up into pieces. The story has many twists of chance that comprises a person's life and it delineates how Sachs goes from writer and husband to a person that will blow up monuments in the name of social causes. In it we learn just as much about the women in each of their lives, their writing careers, and a snapshot of New York in the time period. The main thing I come away with is the richness and complexity of a friendship and how that adds to life.

Sabra Embury

I barely made it to chapter three of Leviathan, and by the time I got there I wanted to throw the book on the ground. The character development lacked luster, the dialogue was stupid, and the narrative was outright boring, aside from its style seeming contrived and rudimentary. I'll admit that this is my first real glimpse into Auster's writing. And I also just finished Jerzy Kosiński's the Painted Bird, which was so beautiful, rich and complex, I would feel bad for any after book having to follow its shadow, since Kosiński's "Paint" makes Leviathan look like a used yellow crayon.But I have to give Auster credit for carving out an apparent niche in postmodernism; through gimmicks that revolve around confusing people with absurd twists and lines like "We starting kissing. Mouths open, tongues thrashing, slobbering onto each others chins, we started kissing like a couple of teenagers in the backseat of a car." When I got to that point, I decided that the book was unreadable. I felt like I'd wasted enough time getting closer to cynical--regarding the doomed consensus of taste in modern American culture. I'm not trying to be violently critical here, or contrary for the sake of being contrary. In fact: I'm going to read the New York Trilogy next. I hear City of Glass is one of his best. But if any essence of Auster's masturbatory rock star jive gets on me, or hell forbid--leaves a stain, I'm sending him the bill for my lobotomy.

James Quirk

It's been a long time since I've read something like this. "Leviathan" has an immediate hook - a man blows himself up at a roadside in rural Minnesota, and no one knows who he is, except the author of the novel. The book is a long story that explains the history of a friendship and a man's spiral into loss, his attempt at finding meaning - and his failure. It's a strikingly bleak book but not in a typical fashion. I think Auster really wanted to delve into aspects of people and relationships that we don't like to look at too closely, and this novel really is a series of serrated puzzle pieces of lust, adultery, murder, and loss that click into place in the end. But again, it's not done in a typical way - Auster frames the book as a mix of memoir and several character studies. It takes a while for things to get going, and he was smart to start the novel off the way he did, otherwise I think the reader wouldn't have the motivation to keep going. I'm glad I did. Very haunting ending, and some really fascinating characters.

Tuck

my very first paul auster novel, and oh my. while the story is not so spectacular (egg head novelist goes anarcho and underground, to good effect) the dialog, reasoning, flow are just so perfect. but perhaps will be my last paul auster novel too? you'll see.this from pg 41, takling about said egghead's novel"No one can say where a book comes from, least of all the person who writes it. Books are born out of ignorance, and if they go on living after they are written, it's only to the degree that they cannot be understood."

Andrielle Figueroa

I love this book, but it doesn't really help that Paul Auster is my favorite author. The book is a quick read but dabbles in depression, self exploration, love and hate. These subjects are usually what his books cover. Though all of his pieces have a depressing feel to them, this one is more fun than the others. I mean, who doesn't love explosions, especially ones that are thought to be connected with terrorists? Or enjoying a release that you know is definitely wrong...but at the same time can be perfectly alrightIf you have an interest in the human mind and what we feel or rather what we allow ourselves to feel it's a great read. The best part is all of Auster's books are intertwined. So I suggest reading some of his other books as well. Sometimes the little things are life changing, and troublesome situations can just make people numb.

Jim Elkins

This is, by most people's account, a minor novel of Auster's, and so it may be an especially go one to raise the question of what drives the work, as opposed to what happens when the writing succeeds in some more specific way. This book has a kind of unremitting literalism in its narrative. In a nearly blank, neutral voice, the narrator tells us dozens of dates, places, and names; in part that's justified by the notion that this is a book written at speed in order to provide legal evidence about one of the narrator's friends. But aside from that, the studiously neutral tone is increasingly difficult to understand. Auster barely uses adjectives; he doesn't pause to pick the write phrase, or find the right image; his writing is utilitarian and evidential, even when the subject is sex, love, murder, or jealousy. After fifty pages or so I finally realized what that was all about: Auster is driven, in this book at least, with an overpowering desire to keep my attention, to be the one whose stories I want to hear. It's a kind of underlying urge to write, independent of his subject matter. It pushes so hard on his imagination that it even prevents him from pausing long enough to construct metaphors, analogies, figures of speech, or other tropes that could make the writing interesting in itself. A typical example of a trope is this:"But a new element was added to the already unstable mixture of the past twenty-four hours, and it wound up producing a deadly compound, a beakerful of acid that hissed forth its dangers in a billowing profusion of smoke."This passage, like others involving figures of speech, is a rare interruption in a generally prose that's generally free of metaphor, and it's awkward: first the "element" is a "compound," then it's a container of acid. The acid "hisses forth" (an overdone image, and a dramatic and clichéd qualifier), and then the "hiss" becomes "smoke." The sentence is confused and hard to picture; it's as if Auster were writing at speed, and couldn't be bothered to stop and tune up his images. That sense of the rush to write also comes out in passages that seem never to have been re-read:"Iris was just twenty-four back then, a dazzling blond presence, six feet tall with an exquisite Scandinavian face and and the deepest, merriest blue eyes t be found between heaven and hell."It's not hard to find yourself writing boilerplate text, but even a single editing session should reveal and correct drivel like this.In "Leviathan" it's as if the psychology, politics, characters, style, and mood of the novel are all arbitrary, and what matters is writing continuously, adding new plot elements with every sentence, propelling the story onward. I began to feel this (his intense desire to hold my attention no matter what the subject might be) as a kind of unslakable desire to compel attention, and in that way the book began to be more and more what it almost is: a book about an ambitious author and his struggle to write.Auster is known for metafiction, and for writing about writing, and those devices might be the best expressions of what really matters to him--by which I don't mean participation in postmodernism and its possibilities, but his own ambition to keep a reader's undivided attention. I hope this observation can't be generalized across metafiction or literary postmodernism--that is, I hope many more things are at stake in self-referential fiction. It's often said that Auster practices a literary fiction version of popular crime fiction, blending metafiction with complex narratives. I imagine people generally mean that his work is an interesting, literary variation on the sorts of tight, complex narratives typical of crime fiction. But I wonder if it might not be better to say he uses devices of postmodernism in order todo what popular trade press authors do--write what Naipaul disparagingly called "puzzles." I can't imagine a reason for reading another of his books.

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