Paul Auster Draws a Diverse Crowd with his Novel Sunset Park

Home Brooklyn Life Paul Auster Draws a Diverse Crowd with his Novel Sunset Park

by Faaria Kherani

Paul Auster, author of Sunset Park (Courtesy/Nancy Crampton)
Paul Auster, author of Sunset Park (Courtesy/Nancy Crampton)

A crowd of over 100 people sits silently as Paul Auster stands at the podium and slowly opens his book. He places his dark glasses on his nose, low enough so he can peer out over them at the audience for effect. His grey hair is brushed back and he wears a casual ensemble of a dark sweater, slacks, and a button-down shirt. He begins to read aloud in a low, gentle rumbling of sound, accentuating key words like “dread,” “rancid,” and “defeat.”

Auster’s ability to understand the most severe effects of the 2008 recession on people from different walks of life in his most recent novel, Sunset Park, drew an eager and diverse crowd to the Union Square Barnes & Noble Wednesday night. Sunset Park has generated constant buzz since it was released earlier this month, challenging the belief Auster shared with The Telegraph that “people care little about books, there’s no book culture here.”

Set in Brooklyn, the novel centers around four poor, young people who resort to becoming squatters in an abandoned 2-story home in Sunset Park, or as Auster writes, a cheaper, “rougher neighborhood.” Auster based his main characters’ housing situation on a real, rundown house in Sunset Park. He writes of the house as “something that had been stolen from a farm on the Minnesota prairie and plunked down by accident in the middle of New York.” He also shows a deep understanding of the neighborhood with detailed descriptions of the dozen different ethnicities and cultural vibes in the area.

Through the lens of his main characters, Auster acknowledges that “everyone is suffering because of the crash, the slump, whatever word people are using to talk about the new depression.” He suggests that his protagonist’s illegal occupation of the abandoned home in fact protected the street and the property from vandals who would associate an abandoned house with an open invitation to make trouble.

Auster drew comparisons between America’s present “depression” and the 1946 film “The Best Years of Our Lives,” which revolves around veterans returning home after WWII. “I don’t know if anyone here has seen it,” he added, looking at the many young fans in the audience. He finally broke a smile and shrugged, “It was popular at the time.” Although the WWII connection may be somewhat farfetched, members of the audience tonight thought “it worked.”

The audience at Auster’s book reading included both readers who traditionally find Auster’s work obscure and incomprehensible, as well as loyal readers who have loved all of Auster’s poetry, novels, and screenplays. Many people in the audience said that Sunset Park is drawing larger crowds because it is perhaps one of the most coherent and universal books Auster has ever written.

Although Auster refers to “ the interview” in Sunset Park as a “debased literary form that serves no purpose except to simplify that which should never be simplified,” he seemed more than happy to talk to and interact with his audience. Auster’s Picador publicist James Meader says Auster has been doing interviews for months around the world. Off stage, Auster laughed, answered questions, joked, and posed for pictures. But the moment he stepped on stage, it was as if the mood of his novel overcame him, and his face turned serious with a permanent frown on his narrow face.

Auster’s ability to address serious social and political issues with raw human emotion was appreciated by his New York audience, evidenced by the multiple hearty rounds of applause he received at the end of the evening. “I don’t even know what I do,” he told The Telegraph, “I just write what I write.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.