The Music of Chance by Paul Auster

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Summary

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

The Music of Chance begins with Jim Nashe, a former firefighter from Boston, coming to the end of a year-long road journey. In this way, the novel is reminiscent of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road (1957), but the similarities end there. Nashe, one learns, is on the road thanks to a $200,000 inheritance from a father he never really knew, which has allowed him to leave behind his everyday life and drift around the United States. His trip is a series of chance encounters, and, just as the money is about to run out, he meets a seedy character named Jack Pozzi, a gambler who inducts him into the “International Brotherhood of Lost Dogs.” Nashe gambles away the last of his inheritance by bankrolling a poker game that Pozzi has put together. The game is with two Pennsylvania millionaires named Flower and Stone, who demand that Nashe and Pozzi work off their debt by building a stone wall on their estate.

Another strong outing by Auster, this book differs significantly from his others. It is a road narrative, but, as always in Auster’s world, chance is an authoritative force. Auster explores the roles of security and serenity, the restraints of freedom and solitude, the power of language and randomness in a violently apathetic world, and the nature of the true quest for justice. The Music of Chance is a thrilling story told in clean and exact prose.

Summary

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The Music of Chance is the story of two drifters who lose everything in a poker game with two eccentric lottery winners and agree to pay off their debt by erecting a stone wall. As they perform this mindless labor, they find that instead of forfeiting their freedom, they have simply replaced one illusion of freedom with another.

Jim Nashe and Jack Pozzi are the main characters in the novel. Nashe is recovering from a trying period in his life following a devastating divorce. His way of coping was to quit his job, empty his bank account, and take off for a year of relentless cross-country driving. Near the end of his travels, just north of New York City, he spots Pozzi stumbling along the side of the road, beaten and broke after an ill-fated poker game. Nashe is sympathetic and, after hearing Pozzi’s story, agrees to bankroll Pozzi in a poker game with two millionaire lottery winners named Flower and Stone. After a brief stopover in New York, Nashe and Pozzi head for southeastern Pennsylvania, where Flower and Stone, who live in a crumbling old mansion, show them the house and feed them children’s food for dinner. Flower, Stone, and Pozzi then begin the poker game as Nashe watches. At one point, Nashe leaves the room for quite a while; upon his return, he finds that Pozzi is having a losing streak that continues until he loses everything. As a last resort, they cut the deck for ten thousand dollars—and Pozzi loses again.

To pay off their debt to Flower and Stone, Nashe and Pozzi agree to hire on as stonemasons, at ten dollars an hour, to build a wall from a stockpile of huge stones the millionaires have had shipped from Ireland. The job looks impossible, but the two men throw themselves into it; after a while, as their bodies toughen, they get into harmony with the project and even resist efforts to lighten the task. To make sure they do not escape, there is a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire surrounding the area and an overseer named Murks present to keep an eye on them. When Nashe and Pozzi finally fulfill their bargain and pay off their debt, they are still broke, so they ask if they can stay on and earn some money for themselves. Flower and Stone agree, and Nashe and Pozzi decide to celebrate with a party. Food and drink are brought, as well as the services of a prostitute from Atlantic City named Tiffany. After the party is over, Nashe and Pozzi learn that the cost for the party is to be added on to the balance they owe Stone and Flower. This so angers Pozzi that he decides to run away.

The next day Nashe sees Pozzi, beaten and bloody, lying half-dead in the mud outside the...

(The entire section is 1,053 words.)