pauster.jpg On Sundays, Gothamist publishes opinion pieces relevant to life in New York City. The opinions expressed in the book review below belong to Dio, a very well-read 23-year old, and not to Gothamist-- which should be obvious, since we only read magazines.

One of the numerous minor characters that flit in and out of The Brooklyn Follies is one James Joyce -- not the writer, but a Foley walker, a person who makes sound effects for movies. His job isn't all aural pyrotechnics, though: he is described as working on minutia, such as "turning the page of a book, or opening a box of crackers''. Similarly, Paul Auster textures his latest novel with little details that seem insignificant in themselves. When weaved into the narrative, however, they have the power to evoke great poignancy -- perhaps more than the lacklustre plot actually deserves.

The narrator is Nathan Glass, a retired insurance salesman who is newly divorced, estranged from his family, and blighted with lung cancer that might or might not kill him soon. At first light, he is a protagonist prepared to go gentle into that good night: "I was looking for a quiet place to die. Someone recommended Brooklyn, and so the next morning I traveled down there from Westchester to scope out the terrain.''

But this is a Paul Auster novel, meaning that life-changing coincidences are the order of the day. It is thus in Brooklyn that Nathan runs into his long-lost nephew, Tom Wood. Tom was once a promising academic, but has since dropped out of graduate school, and now works at a rare-book dealership run by the enigmatic Harry Brightman. Nathan soon finds himself entangled in the shenanigans of friends and family, with a forgery involving Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter thrown in for good measure.

Nathan makes an engaging narrator: by turns wry and bitter, but always frank, he describes events in the energetic, kinetic voice that is Auster's strength. Pity, then, that the characters whose tales he must tell are cringingly stock: there's the flamboyant homosexual with a shady past; the confused young woman who dabbles in porn, blues singing and Christian evangelism (not all at the same time); and the precocious child who outwits the grownups, but is really just hurting inside.

If the plot unfolds in a rather contrived manner (an unavoidable problem when you traffic in coincidences), the reward for reading is in the embellishments, the plays on words and numbers that are trademarks of Auster. In this novel, names get the grand treatment: besides the polarity of Glass and Wood, we get fantastic monikers like Honey Chowder and Harry Brightman alias Dunkel (which, as Auster takes pains to point out, means dark).

Less obvious, but still palpable, is Auster's affection for his characters. Make no mistake: he does put them through a lot of hell -- after all, every story needs conflict to keep things interesting. But ultimately, in a novel where characters seek refuge of one kind or another, you do get the sense that Auster wants them to live happily ever after, or at least live out their lives in financial comfort.

Even September 11th , which is when the narrative concludes, is unable to completely shatter the optimism Auster injects into the end of the novel. Rather than leave us with the burning World Trade Centre, Auster stops time at eight in the morning, the last hour before the attacks. Nostalgia permeates that suspended moment of innocence -- the ultimate refuge, perhaps, from these tumultuous times.

Dio is a 23-year-old journalist who does not live in New York City. To make up for her geographical deficiency, she reads a lot of New York fiction. Her blog is at sternstadt.blogspot.com.