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 by confronting Black, beating him...

(The entire section is 550 words.)