Baumgartner by Paul Auster [4/10]

Over half a century, Paul Auster has produced a dizzying array of novels, plays, nonfiction works, and poetry. I lost track of him after his initial success with mysterious, avant-garde novels like The New York Trilogy, but recently I returned to praise his 2022 polemic Bloodbath Nation (see my review) and his stunningly impressive magnum opus novel 4 3 2 1. Baumgartner, his latest, possesses the same literary flair as those two but is, regrettably, a mere shadow. The tale is a simple one of a writer and professor who cannot forget his wife and one true love, and who in his seventies falls into a journey of reverie as he begins, finally, to emerge from grief. Auster is as supple a stylist as ever, and several virtuoso scenes reminded me of 4 3 2 1. But the plot is … barely a plot at all, not necessarily an issue with better novels, but here the gentle exploration of the beauty in the memory of details shines as a patina over nothing much at all. Call Baumgartner a wistful novel Auster had to write, but approach it with caution.

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