The New York Trilogy Essay - Critical Evaluation

Paul Auster

Critical Evaluation

Paul Auster’s creative output includes numerous novels, screenplays, and translations, as well as several collections of poetry and creative nonfiction. He is an American writer who lived for many years as a translator in Paris, where he developed a literary friendship with the absurdist writer Samuel Beckett. Auster’s work has been seminal in the ways it has drawn together motifs from American literature and French philosophy, leading him to receive accolades on both sides of the Atlantic. The New York Trilogy is his most critically acclaimed work, and City of Glass, the first novel in the trilogy, was adapted in 1994 into a highly successful graphic novel.

The New York Trilogy’s most prominent feature is its slipperiness, for it investigates slippages of meaning, genre, identity, and even fictionality. The three novels are easy to read but difficult to grasp; perhaps the only thing Auster scholars agree upon is that a coherent explanation of exactly what the novels mean would go against Auster’s project.

The New York Trilogy demands intertextual readings, since all three novels are redolent with explicit and implicit references to other literary works, especially from nineteenth century American fiction. Indeed, the title Ghosts may refer to the haunting of postmodern writing by the literary luminaries of the American Renaissance, all of whom are mentioned by name in Auster’s text. Herman Melville’s Benito Cereno (1855, serial; revised, 1856) is mentioned, and Walt Whitman and Ralph Waldo Emerson appear in anecdotes told by Black to Blue. Henry David Thoreau’s Walden: Or, Life in the Woods (1854) appears as a book that Blue watches Black read before reading it himself.

It is Nathaniel Hawthorne who features most prominently. In Ghosts, Black tells Blue the story of Wakefield, the title character of a Hawthorne short story who one day decides not to go home to his wife for reasons unknown even to himself and who lives nearby undetected for years before returning; the story ends as the door opens. Although “Wakefield” (1835) is most closely associated with Fanshawe, who leaves his own family in exactly the same way, it also adds depth to Blue’s difficulty in contacting the future Mrs. Blue, something Blue cannot explain even to himself.

Hawthorne, whose first novel was titled Fanshawe: A Tale (1828), was known for having spent years in a virtual “locked room”...

(The entire section is 1026 words.)