Oracle Night. Paul Auster.

Auster, Paul. Oracle Night. Picador, New York. 2003. F; 2/17.

Sometimes like the sausage-maker I get a little behind in my work, and I am writing about this one belatedly. There is only one highlighted passage, and although I’ve read a couple of reviews to remind me of the plot I’m left with a murkiness that would be part my short-term memory and part a reflection of the book itself.

I got excited when I realized that it was literally a story-within-a-story-within-a-story. But the thrill didn’t last as the three plot lines failed, in my mind at least, to meaningfully reflect one another and at least present me with the possibility of some sort of a version of my own experience. And the style was a strange mix of the spooky-supernatural (not as bad as it sounds because that aura works as one enters the potentially vertiginous territory of stories-within-stories) and some very wooden dialogue.

Our narrator is a novelist recovering from a near-catastrophic illness or injury who stumbles on a kind of magical notebook allowing him to create a story about another author who is writing about someone both blind and unable to escape an ability to foretell the future. The winding up of the superficial story seems to be an attempt to gather together the three fictional plots (said by some to reflect Auster’s life to some extent, no big surprise) by focusing on narrator’s lovely wife and her pregnancy which he might not have caused.

The best representations-of-representation seem for me to induce a certain kind of experience in us readers, observers, listeners. Goodness, we suddenly understand, this is real: I feel it and can see its big and fearful potential. Mr. Auster definitely falls short of that here but there are moments of intimation (and the whole multiple-plot structure makes pretty clear) that he is reaching for and therefore appreciates the possibility of having that kind of aesthetic experience. For me, Oracle Night was another nice idea that didn’t quite make it off the ground. 7.8/6.7.

About John Sloan

John Sloan is a senior academic physician in the Department of Family Practice at the University of British Columbia, and has spent most of his 30 years' practice caring for the frail elderly in Vancouver. He is the author of "A Bitter Pill: How the Medical System is Failing the Elderly", published in 2009 by Greystone Books. His innovative primary care practice for the frail elderly has been adopted by Vancouver Coastal Health and is expanding. Dr. Sloan lectures throughout North America on care of the elderly.
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