This book shouldn’t work and in many ways doesn’t. The narrator should be unlikable, but I liked him. The plot relies on seemingly intelligent people behaving incredibly stupidly. There are entirely too many coincidences of the type that mostly went out of fashion around the time Charles Dickens died. And yet…
Nathan Glass is a divorced and retired cancer survivor who decides to spend his remaining years in Brooklyn. Detested by his ex-wife and in a fight with his only daughter, Nathan lives a solitary existence until a chance run-in with an estranged nephew kicks off a highly improbable chain of events. In short order Nathan finds his lonely world over-populated with crooked art dealers, innkeepers, teachers, jewelry designers, radical evangelicals, and his ex-porn star niece and her fiercely stubborn daughter.
Nathan’s nephew Tom is a failed academic who’s been making ends meet as a taxi driver and a bookstore clerk since he abandoned his dissertation after years of fruitless work. When Nathan walks into the store he has mostly given up on romance and friendship, though he still holds onto a dream of community. In part due to Nathan’s intercession he too finds himself surrounded by loved ones.
Is it all a little too pat and easy? Maybe, but due to its period-piece setting, there is a layer of irony to all the happy endings Auster doles out to his characters. Something is coming that the reader knows about and the characters don’t, and that impending event hangs over everything, good and bad, that happens to Nathan Glass and his newly discovered family.