I stumbled onto this book because I was chatting up an acquaintance and I mentioned I was into hard-boiled mysteries. He said, “Oh, you might like The New York Trilogy“. In retrospect, that’s like saying, “Oh, you like the show Friends? You might also like the movie Requiem for a Dream. It also has stuff about friends and family dynamics!” This is…different than what I had in mind.
The only other way to talk about this book is to talk about talking about this book. It’s a mystery novel, but it’s not really a mystery novel. It’s really some postmodern/literary/linguistic/philosophical musings parading about in an ill-fitting mystery novel costume. It’s the mystery novel exploded and cubed, Picasso style. The Goodreads reviews of this book have devolved into an internet fight about whether the book is pretentious or not, and whether calling something pretentious is pretentious. So, caveat emptor. But also, even if you’re not into all of that, on the surface it’s a pretty entertaining read.
This is a collection of three separately published novellas. The first, City of Glass, starts like a lot of hard-boiled novels. A guy gets a phone call, and it sends him into a weird web of characters in which he gets stuck. Only, instead of being about a stolen artifact or a dame, it’s about…language?
The second story, Ghosts, is my favorite. It’s about a low-level private eye that gets paid by an anonymous client to tail another guy. But, the other guy also seems to be tailing someone. What’s going on?
The third story, The Locked Room, is the most traditional in terms of literature and mystery. A guy gets a message out the blue about a childhood friend and his disappearance, and it sends him on a bizarre journey to find himself. Or the friend. Or are they same person?
If this all sounds bananas, it is. But it’s also simultaneously entertaining and thought provoking. If you’re a creative yourself, you’ll enjoy the way the author plays with the tension of how making something for others ends up alienating you from others (take a look at the cover again). Auster is able to balance pulp fiction and high literature, which is impressive. It’s a quick 308 pages.