Like so many other Paul Auster works of late, Man In the Dark is a story taking place within another story. The basic premise is that an old man can’t sleep at night, and so he tells himself stories in order to pass the time.
Auster flashes between the reality of the old man and his fictional story detailing a second American civil war. Consequently, things get interesting when the fictional bleeds into the real. Yes, that’s right: the old man’s character is assigned to find the old man, and carry out a special task.
However, the real meat of this story occurs when we get to know the old man better. His wife is dead and he lives with his daughter and his granddaughter. His daughter’s husband left her, and his granddaughter’s boyfriend has been recently killed—the circumstances of which are severely disturbing when finally revealed and haunted me for days afterward.
Auster has been experimenting with the story-within-a-story technique for quite a while, and “real” characters meeting “fictional” characters is nothing new in Auster works either, but, I believe Auster broke ground with Man In the Dark because he makes a point to familiarize us with the old man’s fictional characters before we get better acquainted with the old man himself. We then realize that much of the “fictional” story the old man concocted had myriad details from the old man’s personal life—and that’s where Auster really shined.
We all know that authors pick and choose aspects from their private lives to drop into their works—I do it as well. But in Man In the Dark, the old man employs facets from his own life in the tale he develops, which makes us wonder how much of the storyteller’s life is derived from Auster’s actual life. Confusing, I know, but fun to analyze.
I also love the particular significance of this work’s title. It can refer to the old man laying awake at night, to the fictional character the old man creates and who doesn’t have any idea how he happened into a second American civil war, or it could refer to the granddaughter’s boyfriend, who died under horrendous circumstances which I won’t spoil for you.
I do have one criticism of Man In the Dark, however, and that’s the fact that Auster’s characters are beginning to sound an awfully lot alike. It’s not enough to turn me off, but it is something I’ve noticed in the last few books of his that I’ve read. But again, is this simply a mistake, or is Auster experimenting somehow? Is he driving home the fact that each character created by an author is an aspect of the author himself, and thus illustrating that they therefore should sound similar? I don’t have the answer to that, but once more, it sure is fun to think about.
Man In the Dark is a short read, and if you enjoy experimental storytelling and style, and think you’ll be pleased with this work by a master.