Leviathan Summary
by Paul Auster

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(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

With the publication of his NEW YORK TRILOGY (1985-1987), MOON PALACE (1989), and THE MUSIC OF CHANCE (1990), Paul Auster has won critical acclaim as a provocative and original American novelist. LEVIATHAN opens with Benjamin Sachs being killed in a bomb blast. It was perhaps an accident, but his friend of fifteen years, Peter Aaron, thinks back over their years of friendship and comes to realize that suicide is a definite possibility. Aaron feels driven to make sense of what happened to his friend and how he came to be sitting by the road in northern Wisconsin constructing a bomb when it exploded. With the death of Sachs coming at the opening of the novel, Auster has revealed the conclusion of the story. The burden is then placed upon the narrator, Aaron, to make sense of how Sachs arrived at this tragic climax.

Sachs is no less than a compelling figure. Strongly opposed to America’s involvement in the Vietnam War, he was willing to serve a prison term rather than be drafted. During his time in prison, he wrote a brilliant novel. Whereas Aaron must agonize over every word of his writing before he is truly satisfied, Sachs seemingly can write stunning prose without much effort. After Aaron and Sachs meet in the mid-1970’s, their lives become intertwined. Auster is a master at misdirection and ironic coincidence. There are many small disasters that build like an ever-growing snowball to much larger tragedies. LEVIATHAN takes its name from a sea monster, but it also connotes something that is large or formidable. The forces that drive Sachs to his ultimate demise seem very much larger than life. Aaron had been amazed by his friend’s brilliance and secretly in love with his wife. Over the fifteen years of their friendship, Sachs became more and more estranged from those close to him. No one person could put all the pieces of his life into one coherent whole. Auster does a remarkable job of conveying how friendship, sexual desire, betrayal, and random acts of violence commingle in contemporary American life. LEVIATHAN is a powerful and haunting reading experience.