The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster

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Summary

The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster is a series of three detective novels: City of Glass (1985), Ghosts (1986), and The Locked Room (1986). The stories are not independent of one another and have since been published together in one volume. All three novels are set in New York at different time periods.

City of Glass is about a lonely and unhappy thirty-five-year-old widower named Daniel Quinn. He is a writer of detective stories, writing under the pseudonym William Wilson. When he is not writing, Quinn reads mystery novels and walks the streets of New York. Quinn receives a series of phone calls from someone wanting to hire a detective named Paul Auster. After the third phone call, Quinn decides to take on the identity of the detective and arranges to meet the person who has called him. When he arrives at the address, a beautiful woman answers the door and takes Quinn through to talk to her husband, Peter Stillman. Stillman is a young man, blond, and he tells his story to Quinn without pause. The story lasts for hours rather than minutes. As a child, Stillman was the subject of a cruel experiment by his father, and now that his father is being released from prison, he wants Quinn to watch him and ensure he doesn’t come back for him. Quinn takes on the case and spends weeks following Stillman’s father. The story ends with Quinn himself becoming the subject of an experiment and another man, a writer, now looking for Quinn.

Ghosts is about a man named Blue. Blue is a detective. We see through his eyes. Blue is a student of a man named Brown and is hired by a man named White to watch over a man named Black. As readers, we don’t know why Blue has been hired to watch Black, only that he sends reports back to White. Black, though, does nothing but stay in the apartment, reading and writing. As Blue is a man of action, he becomes bored and begins to make up stories and fantasize about Black. He starts to struggle to separate fantasy from reality—first fantasy about Black, but then about himself, too.

Both Quinn and Peter Stillman make appearances in the final story of the trilogy, The Locked Room. In this story, the main character, “the writer,” is contacted by a woman named Sophie, who is the wife of the writer’s childhood friend Fanshawe. She says that her husband has been missing for six months and that her husband had wanted the writer to become the executor of his manuscript to see if it was suitable for publishing. As a writer of articles but a failed novelist, the writer is concerned about this task.

How could I be expected to take on such a responsibility—to stand in judgment of a man and say whether his life had been worth living? He admired what I did, Sophie said; he was proud of me, and he felt that I had it in me to do something great.

Reading the manuscript, the writer realizes that Fanshawe has achieved greatness with this work. The manuscript is published to great acclaim. Sophie and the writer fall in love and marry, and the writer adopts Fanshawe’s son. But Fanshawe haunts their life, and the writer decides that the only way to move on with their lives is to find him. This search, however, becomes an obsession for the writer, ending in a nervous breakdown in Paris. Finally, however, he is told by his wife that they have to believe Fanshawe is dead in order for their marriage to survive. Fanshawe finally contacts the writer and gives him a notebook, but the writer gets rid of it.

Summary

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

The New York Trilogy comprises Auster’s first three novels, City of Glass (1985), Ghosts (1986), and The Locked Room (1986). It introduces the themes that Auster would continue to explore in novels for years to come. Drawing on the style of hard-boiled detective fiction and the imagery of film noir, Auster sets these three intricate mysteries in New York in different time periods. Essentially, each of these three books tells the same story, as the nameless narrator confesses at the end of The Locked Room , related at different stages of the...

(The entire section is 1,956 words.)