Let’s take a moment (ok, a long moment. Look how long this post got!) to talk about how terrible this book is. It’s been sitting on my shelf for WEEKS and I keep renewing it because it’s looking at me all, You must warn them. It’s so, so awful.
Let’s get down to bones. Adam Walker is a student and also a poet and he is extremely the shit. Like, so much. You need to know how much the shit he is, and in case you don’t he meets a man named Bertram and Bertram’s girlfriend Margot at a party, and later Bertram is like, Margot thinks you are too good for this world and that the world will crush you. And I am like, AH HA, I see you there, Paul Auster. YOU are Adam Walker and this book is going to be how pensive and misunderstood you are. Invisible my ass.
So Adam meets Bertram and Margot, and Bertram decides to start a magazine and let Adam run it even though Adam is, like, twenty-two, and Bertram knows nothing about magazines, but Adam is one of those people that everyone wants to help out and shower praise upon and give their glorious slender bodies to (that last one is Margot, not Bertram [although later there is some confusion about whether Bertram also wanted to fuck Adam, because who wouldn’t? NOBODY, that’s who]).
And then one day they’re having a business walk and a kid (a black one, obvie) tries to rob them, but Bertram STABS him. Like, just stabs the shit out of him. And then later sends Adam a note being like, Tell no one, or you also get The Stabs. But because Adam is the noblest, he tells the cops. But Bertram has skipped town and gone to Paris! Annnnnnd scene!
Section break, and here’s where the book tries to crack out of a mold. Because all of what we’ve read until now is just a manuscript sent to one of Adam’s old school chums, along with a note from Adam all, Hey, long time no see, but do you want to help me get this published? So now we have a chapter from Old School Chum talking about how uhhhmezzzing Adam is, and then he and Adam chat a bit about how hard writing is and how sometimes, when you are stuck (as Adam is), it helps to shift perspective. And I am like, Yairs, yairs, I have heard this also, but then in the next chapter Adam continues his story IN SECOND PERSON.
No. Second person is never the answer. Nothing good has ever been written in second person. Second person is for twenty-year-olds in creative writing classes who like beat poetry and have finger-mustache tattoos. So now YOU are Adam Walker and I am rolling my eyes so hard.
So you (Adam Walker) saw your friend Bertram stab a boy, and sort of unrelatedly you now live temporarily with your sister Gwyn, and you are SUCH besties, and there is a full page and a half about the things you and Gwyn do and do not agree upon, except it’s really just Auster showing off how high his brow is. WhitmanTolstoyMiddlemarchKafkaBeckettjazztheJohnsonadministrationetc. Look at all the stuff you have opinions on. And then you two become the Lannisters and I am like, I totally saw this coming.
And then you go to Paris. Fin.
And then Old School Chum goes to visit Adam only Adam is dead (did I forget to mention that he had cancer?
) and OSC chats with Adam’s step-daughter about Aunt
Cersei Gwyn and then she gives him a package that Dead Adam left for him. Surprise, it is Part III of Adam’s book, and it is in third person (which I’m fine with) present tense (which I mostly don’t like but ok) and then ‘[t]elegraphic. No complete sentences. From beginning to end, written like this. Goes to the store. Falls asleep.’ And I am like, Nope. If you make me read the last section like this, I am CHECKING OUT. But Old School Chum renders it into readable prose, thank god.
So Adam Walker goes to Paris for reasons I forget but also to go to school, and rather than live in dorms like a regular person he gets himself this run-down, charmingly dilapidated, winsomely poetic room. Because he’s a poet, you may recall. Poets do not live in dorms and play cribbage with their roommates at 3 am. They STARVE and DRINK BAD WINE and they WRITE. They fall upon the thorns of life! They bleed!
Amidst starving and writing and bleeding, Adam phones Margot (Bertram’s old gf, with whom Adam had some torrid sexy times) and insists on talking to her in French because he ‘knows she can express herself more comfortably in her own language. Now that he is in Paris, he aims to give Margot’s Frenchness back to her.’ IS THIS NOT MOST NOBLE? Fuck you, Adam. First of all, her Frenchness is not yours to give, and secondly, she lives in Paris now, so speaking French is probably not the treat you think it is.
Anywert, they resume sexy times and chat about Bertram and whether or not he was attracted to Adam, because that’s what *I* like to talk about with my lovers. And she’s all (this is where I start laughing and laughing), ‘He said you looked like a tormented Adonis, Lord Byron on the verge of a nervous breakdown [so, just regular Lord Byron, then]…You’re a special case, Adam, and what makes you special is that you have no idea of the effect you have on other people.’ That is my LEAST favorite trope, I tell you right now.
And then Margot is like, He tossed me out and took up with some boring nice person named Hélène. And then the book goes to some length to prove that Hélène is dumpy and that she and Bertram have no real spark but THEN Adam is like, I will pull off this devious plan of REVENGE for that POOR STABBED BOY and ‘it will deprive Hélène Juin’s future husband of the one object he covets most in the world.’ And despite myself I’m kind of like, Oooooh, what could it be!
It’s Hélène, obviously. Even though Bertram isn’t that into her. And Adam accidentally makes Hélène’s daughter fall in love with him in the process (the process being: Befriend Hélène, tell her about Bertram’s stabby times. I mean, what a PLOT!) because he is The Most Lovable, so in a fit of philanthropy he avoids her (!!) and settles down to Serious Poetry Writing. And here’s a thing, authors: don’t have your budding poet write some poems and be like, Mmmm, yes, quite good, those, and then PUT the poems in the book! Don’t do it. Because I’m going to be like, Har! That poem is terrible.
Ennnnnyway, he’s being all monastic but then Hélène’s daughter shows up and unburdens her soul to him and ‘[s]he is still talking, but he is no longer listening to her’ because he’s wondering if now is a good time to spring Bertram’s stabby tendencies on her. Adam Walker, you are a terrible person. Adam finally tells Hélène about Bertram and she’s like, What? Come on. So that doesn’t go as planned.
SECTION BREAK. Now its 40 years later and the Old School Chum goes around interviewing Hélène’s daughter and Gwyn and whoever else, and they’re all like, My story is different than Dead Adams, and it’s supposed to be about unreliability or something.
This is one of those Deep and Meaningful books that I suspect I am (at 30) much too old for, and nowhere near enough in love with the uniquely principled young poet archetype. 19-year-old me might have been all over him, but 19-year-old me (it is universally acknowledged) had terrible, terrible taste in men.
Spare yourselves, you guys.