The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

While the characters in this existential novel have individual identities, they are still more two-dimensional than three-dimensional. Auster presents them in pairs that are two halves of one complete personality. Thus, there are two protagonists, two antagonists, and two cardboard flunkies.

Jim Nashe is thirty-four and recently divorced. When he receives an inheritance from his father, he quits his job as a firefighter, withdraws all of his money from his bank, and hits the road in his red Saab in search of meaning and direction. Although his driving seems aimless and frenzied, he carefully maps each day’s trip, so that there is indeed method in his madness. His compulsive driving becomes an odyssey during which he experiences threats, fears, melancholy, desperation, and infatuation. At one point, he reconnects with a woman he once knew and almost stays on with her, only to realize that he would be merely compounding his problem. Instead, he concentrates on his daughter, Juliette, who is with her mother in Minnesota, visiting her as often as he can. When, after a year, Nashe crosses paths with Jack Pozzi, he has reached a point where his destiny can be decided only by chance. Thus, the chance to bankroll Pozzi in a poker game is to him the reasonable solution to a problem he cannot solve himself. When he loses everything, he takes it with a shrug, figuring this was meant to be. Later, when Pozzi decides to escape from Stone and Flower, Nashe stays...

(The entire section is 490 words.)