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In Brooklyn author Paul Auster’s new novel, Man in the Dark (out this week), a book critic named Brill battles insomnia, grief over the recent death of his wife, and a deep dissatisfaction with the state of America, all by telling himself a bedtime story. Auster, who’ll be promoting the book in-person at the Union Square Barnes & Noble on September 10, spoke to Vulture about the Obama campaign, his critics, and daydreaming about the day New York secedes from the United States.
Your main character, Brill, is a critic. It seems surprising for a novelist to characterize a fictional critic so kindly. Do you feel a sense of warmth for your own critics?
Warmth for my critics? No, not particularly! They’ve often been very tough with me. To tell you the truth, I tend not to think about it very much. I present Brill as an open-minded person, someone who’s interested in literature. I don’t talk about the kind of reviews he wrote, but I wouldn’t imagine he’d be slashing other people’s work to pieces. He’s an enthusiast.
The Internet looms large in Man in the Dark, but you’re famously a Luddite. Are you coming around to its charms?
To tell you the truth, I don’t have a computer, I’m not on the Internet, and I never look at any of this stuff. I’m just not part of it; I don’t want to be. For example, being on e-mail — I don’t want it. I see all my friends, not to speak of my wife, spending so much time on their computers, e-mailing back and forth, with just hundreds and hundreds of things they feel obligated to answer, wasting so much time. I guess I try to keep my life simpler so I can think about the things I want to think about. I sound like a real dinosaur, don’t I?
Well, one of the myths is that you compose everything by typewriter. Is that true?
No, I write everything by hand and then I type it up on an old manual typewriter. I can’t compose on a keyboard, I don’t know why. I need a pen or pencil in hand.
What there anything in particular that sparked this book for you?
Do you know who David Grossman is? He’s a great writer, a very good friend of mine, and someone I admire enormously. His son Yuri, at the age of 20, was killed in the war two years ago when Lebanon and Israel were fighting. And this was a boy I knew. It was a terrible thing. Just terrible, terrible suffering David and his family has gone through. And I think the story in my book about Titus came from the absolute anguish I felt for David. The book is dedicated to them.
And the book grapples with the dark mood that we’re suffering from in America right now. Do you feel hopeful about the upcoming elections?
I have this feeling that this 40-year cycle we’ve been in of dominance by the right wing, the conservative movement, is over. The ideas no longer hold and I think most Americans feel that these ideas are no longer valid. So my prediction is the Democrats are going to win Congress very heavily. I’m fervently praying that Obama wins, but I can’t predict it. It’s too uncertain. I just don’t know how racist America is.
In the novel Brill composes a story in which New York secedes from the U.S. Is that a favorite daydream of yours?
Well, there’s a poetry magazine that I get, and right after 9/11 it came out and the cover just said, “USA out of NYC.” I thought it was really funny. And I started thinking, “Well, wouldn’t it be interesting if New York seceded from the United States. What would happen?” I mean it would probably be impossible to pull it off. But I wouldn’t mind seeing New York as an independent city-state.