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Oracle Night: A Novel
by Paul Auster
ISBN 0312423667 / 9780312423667 / 0-312-42366-7
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In Oracle Night, Paul Auster returns to one of his favorite themes: writing about writers and the act of writing. Recovering from a severe illness that has left him weak and prone to nosebleeds, struggling novelist Sidney Orr takes the suggestion of his mentor, the acclaimed novelist John Trause, and begins a story about a man who, upon considering a near-death experience as an omen (or excuse), walks out on his wife and begins a new life. Nick Bowen, Orr's protagonist, moves to Kansas City and finds work with a man engaged in creating a sort of catalogue of all known persons from a warehouse filled with phonebooks. Dressed in Goodwill clothing, Nick finds it "fitting to don the wardrobe of a man who has likewise ceased to exist--as if that double negation made the erasure of his past more thorough, more permanent." Grace, however, acts strangely soon after Sidney begins the "novel-within-a-novel" in a mysterious blue notebook.
Auster uses footnotes to provide interesting backstory and develops Sidney's insecurities regarding love and fidelity, but when Sidney hits a patchy spot and writes Bowen into a corner, he (and Auster) shrugs and drops the story. The mystery that seemingly unrelated coincidences may have a causal connection is left unresolved, and Trause's delinquent son shows up to facilitate a hollow, climactic ending. Auster is a gifted writer, to be sure, but once trapped by the inner story, Oracle Night loses steam. --Michael Ferch [via]