I love strange books. Revolutionary books, absurd books, books you cannot compare to anything you have read before. Books that carry different message to different people. Books from which you can extract exactly what you need at that moment. Books that are weird, unconventional, not falling into any category. These and only these books make me excited and assured that there is always something more in world literature, a topic, a style, an idea not yet explored. Paul Auster’s Man in the Dark is definitely such a strange book.
Imagine a world where the USA is not in war with Iraque but with itself. Imagine a parallel world, co-existing with ours, where the States is devastated by a civil war instead of devastating other nations but living calmly on their huge continent. This is absurd, you might say. Yet, this is the world of the 72-years-old August Brick. Paralyzed by a sever car accident, the former journalist moves to live with his daughter Miriam and his granddaughter Katya. The three poor souls have been devastated by life. August’s wife recently passed away. Miriam divorced her husband and Katya’s boyfriend was savagely killed in the war on terror. The three of them suffer from insomnia (what you will also do if you make the mistake of starting the novel late at night). The three of them try to forget the pain and suffering in their lives, slowly going back to normality.
August Brick has invented his own way of dealing with insomnia. He makes up stories. In his alternative America the Twin Towers are still standing and the States are in the state of a terrible civil war. The protagonist in August’s stories is a magician, recruited to kill..well August himself for inventing this parallel reality. Brick tries to distort himself from thinking about his and his family pain. By escaping to another reality, he attempts to disprove the existence of the reality he is forced to live in. A reality, where he was the bastard, who cheated on his wife and failed his marriage. A reality where he reunited with his wife only to see her die. A reality where his daughter failed her marriage and where his granddaughter is hunted by guilt for her boyfriend’s murder. A reality where the family together watched the video where Katya’s boyfriend was murdered by extremists in the most violent way.
Yet reality is not something you can escape that easily. Even when focusing on his stories, Brick involuntarily returns to the present. His mind waves back to the past, to the mistakes, to the present sorrow, and to the insomnia. Problems cannot be washed away because reality has the terrible habit of reminding you it is still there. In the face of Katya, who visits her grandfather in the middle of the night to share the sorrow.
In spite of that, Man in the Dark is a positive novel. Three people solitarily share their pain and their sleeplessness. It is exactly trough family and friends that one leaves the past where it belongs – in the past and looks towards the future, whatever it might show. Blending absurdism and existentialism Auster ingeniously points out the faults of our contemporary life but still leaves hope that despite the tragically painful existence there might be still a way forward. Through patience, solidarity, self-compassion, and love.