Saturday, January 10, 2015

Book Review: Sunset Park by Paul Auster

Homeless and Rudderless

That would be the best way to describe the main character of this novel. 

Miles Heller is really the central character in a book that often turns to other characters to tell the story. Miles is a young man (boy I feel old using that term, I sound like I'm about 85 years old) who has fled from a life that certainly held privileges in New York after an accident claimed his stepbrother. The guilt and feelings of responsibility forced him to leave everything behind, including a concrete plan for the future, his parents, and his friends. Life as he knew it was over, and he puts himself in a self proclaimed exile, wandering across the United States while he holds down small jobs.

We soon learn that there is a little more to Miles that we thought. He is intelligent and in many ways, very rational and practical, as he learns to survive with more menial jobs in a world that really contrasts with from where he came. At the start of the novel, he is in Florida, "trashing out" houses which have been foreclosed. While for most of his coworkers this is an opportunity to collect treasures from the wreckage, Miles has a sentimentality that leads him to photograph this former homes and wonder about the inhabitants that fled. This is the first factor that interested me about this main character.

We find out that he is anchored to Florida, and staying in this job beyond his usual span of time because of a girl. It seems that Miles has fallen in love and fallen hard. But there are challenges and barriers to this relationship that I won't share as it could ruin the book. Because of a series of events, Miles is forced to reconsider his decisions and life in Florida and actually runs back to New York when an opportunity arises. Miles views this as temporary and takes his old friend up on the offer to squat in a home owned by the city, located in Sunset Park. He joins a group of three to squat there, each having their own reasons for living in a house rent free. Each knows that this is a temporary way station in their life and each individual comes with their own baggage.

We watch as Miles has the opportunity for reconciliation and redemption. We watch each of the homes inhabitants struggle with their own personal demons and the struggle to challenge those things. Will their temporary home provide them with more than shelter? Again, I don't want to ruin the book for anyone by giving too much away.

In the end, we will come to see if Miles can rise past his past and if he is really more passionate than we originally thought he was. Does history repeat itself or is he able to truly move back to continue his original trajectory.

This is a well written book and I really enjoyed the variety of voices which provided the framework for the story. Very interesting.

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