The New York Trilogy Characters
by Paul Auster

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The New York Trilogy Characters

The New York Trilogy is a series of three detective novels: City of Glass (1985), Ghosts (1986), and The Locked Room (1986). The stories have since been published together in one volume.

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In City of Glass, the main character is widower Daniel Quinn, thirty-five years old and a writer of mystery novels. Quinn has never recovered from the deaths of his wife and son five years ago. Although desperately unhappy, he no longer wishes to kill himself. When he isn’t writing mystery stories, he spends a lot of time reading them. After receiving repeated phone calls for a detective named Paul Auster of the Auster Detective Agency, he decides to accept the case himself and pass himself off as Auster. However, while searching for a man named Stillman, he ends up being held captive, living on the streets, and then disappearing, permanently leaving only his red spiral notebook behind.

In Ghosts, the main character is Blue, a student of a man named Brown. Blue is hired by a man named White to follow another man named Black and moves into an apartment in Brooklyn Heights—opposite the apartment where Black lives. As Black doesn’t move from his apartment, Blue is trapped. Being a man of action, he hates this kind of job. Blue, like the other characters in Ghosts, is one-dimensional, intelligent but not cultured.

In The Locked Room, the main character is referred to as “the writer” and is around thirty years of age. He receives a letter from Sophie Fanshawe, the wife of an old friend of his. She says that her husband has been missing for six months, presumed dead, and asks the writer to read through her husband’s manuscripts to check if they are suitable for publishing. The writer says that he will review Fanshawe’s work. The writer falls in love with Sophie, and they marry. He also publishes Fanshawe’s work and adopts his son. He begins to search for Fanshawe, and his obsession with the man turns to hatred and eventually leads to a breakdown.

The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Tormented by the deaths of his wife and three-year-old son five years earlier, Quinn finds solace only in the arbitrary order of baseball (like Blue) and the artificial world of his art (like Fanshawe). He finds himself attracted to the detective story because problems are solved, mysteries explained—unlike in real life. Caring about no one but himself, he feels lost within his gloom until the seemingly random telephone call gives a new purpose to his life: “He knew he could not bring his son back to life, but at least he could prevent another from dying.” The opposite, however, occurs. When Quinn pretends to be his son, the senior Stillman commits suicide.

Staring across at Black’s apartment, Blue assesses his life for the first time, realizing he has been content merely with looking at the surface of things. An uncultured but intelligent man, he has never truly thought before having Black, as if a mirror, reflect his identity back to him. He feels that by understanding Black he can better understand himself. Auster subtly establishes ironic distance between reader and characters, none of whom ever truly understands anyone or anything. At the same time Blue is becoming more aware of the world around him, his identity merges more with Black’s until he too is confined to a room (like the young Stillman, his imprisoned father, and the reclusive Fanshawe). Blue is released from this debilitating alienation only...

(The entire section is 892 words.)