Books:”Baumgartner” by Paul Auster
Grief is something we’ve all had to face at one point in our lives. Some process it better than others. S.T., the eponymous hero of Paul Auster’s latest novel “Baumgartner” is not handling his grief well at all.
S.T.’s wife Anna drowned in a freak accident in 2008 and he is still grieving her ten years later—especially as he wanders through their home in Princeton NJ, where he is a philosophy professor at the university. One day, his landline rings and he believes he hears her voice at the other end. But when he tries to speak, he is disconnected.
This strange episode kicks off a number of other unhappy thoughts, including flashbacks to S.T’s lower-middle-class upbringing in Newark and memories of his stern father who died of a wart attack at age 60.
Eventually, S.T. emerges from his dark cloud and begins to date again. He gets somewhat serious about a woman who is the divorced wife of a former colleague. This does not turn out well and re-plunges him into grief. By the end of the book, however there is a salvation.
While the story I’ve described may not immediately strike you as a must-read, fans of Paul Auster’s work will love it. Few modern writers can evoke a mood as perfectly as he can.
It may be tempting to conflate Auster’s gloomy tone with his own recent difficulties (e.g., the suicide of his son or his recent cancer diagnosis). But let us not speculate and simply say “Baumgartner” is a lovely exploration of grief that is hardly a downer. In fact, it may strike a few familiar chords in all of us.
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