Review: Winter Journal by Paul Auster

Guided by his memory and his senses, the mature writer respsonsible for The Invention of Solitude reflects on his 63 years of life

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Photograph: Michael Skigen

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>3/5


By Paul Auster. Henry Holt, $26.

Certain moments are ideal for reflecting on one’s life—birthdays and the occasional unsuccessful meditation session, for instance. Paul Auster’s new memoir was spurred by the former but reads like the latter. The autobiographical follow-up to The Invention of Solitude—Auster’s 1982 debut about fatherhood—begins just before the author’s 63rd birthday. Surmising that most of his life is behind him, Auster takes inventory of his many years, in hopes of gleaning some truth. Written in second person, the nonlinear entries of Winter Journal revisit pivotal moments in the author’s life: falling in love, traveling to new countries and new homes, and watching his parents die. One of Auster’s epiphanies arrives late in the book, when he muses that “writing is a lesser form of dance.” The structure of Winter Journal, in a sense, mirrors this realization. The writer’s memories whirl through fleeting childhood recollections, leap toward present-day advanced age, then dive into the past to recover every isolated feeling in the wake of tragedies such as a car accident involving his family. 

At times, Journal gives off more of an owner’s-manual feel than a diary, but it never comes across as cold. (There’s both a distance and an immediacy that stems directly from the narrative address of you.) Auster hands the reader 63 years of life and history; it’s a dance that’s still in motion, and he guides us through every step.

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