Sometimes if you read enough of a certain author, you tend to notice the author’s trends, tendencies, and recurring themes. Sunset Park is clearly a Paul Auster book, especially in regards to the above mentioned, but I believe it also features the most engaging and well-rounded characters he’s presented in quite some time.
Sunset Park features Miles Heller, a young man of once great potential who has since decided to coast through life with no ambition and little influence. Auster makes a point to allow us into Miles’ life—his very soul—and shows us every wart. By the end of the book we know Miles. We know his capabilities, we know his limitations. He is a man who turned his back on his own life, and we must wonder if such a man can ever really rejoin the human race.
Miles’ story begins in Florida in 2008 after the economic collapse. He cleans out deserted home or foreclosed homes and earns a modest income. Due to some significant complications with his girlfriend—someone Miles can’t help but love—he must return to New York. He is given an offer from an old friend to join a few people in an abandoned home where they are squatting. These are not your typical squatters, however. Their organizer is a musician and small business owner, and the other roommates are a graduate student and, ironically, a real-estate agent.
While Auster is superb at depicting Miles, he’s even better with the squatters. None of these characters are perfect people, and most should not even be likable, yet Auster delivers each of their plights in such a human, identifiable, and charismatic style that you cannot help but root for them to win in the end.
And though he wasn’t one of the squatters, I found myself pleasantly surprised by Miles’ father in the story. Though Morris is a relatively minor character, he is given his just due by Auster. Perhaps it’s because Morris has had more battles, more defeats, and ultimately more tragedy than any of the other characters that I gravitate towards him so. He is a flawed man, but a loveable man, a man trying to do right even though he’s committed wrongs. He is a father and a husband trying to do his best at both, and he is a loyal friend.
As probably apparent, I enjoyed Sunset Park. I am an Auster fan; I’ve read most of his work, and I’d have to say that this particular book is among my favorites from him in recent memory mostly because of his careful attention to character.
However, even with that being said, I do have one complaint. I cannot delve too much into it for fear of revealing the ending, but I felt the finish both inconsistent and rushed. Granted, where Auster is involved, unexpected and abrupt endings are nothing new, but out of all of his books, this one seemed the most erratic. Auster spent page after page establishing character not just with Miles, but with virtually everyone who came into important contact with the protagonist, and all of that previously established characterization was undone without warning or, in my mind, logic.
But then again, I firmly consider Auster a genius, and I know he favors the themes of chance, coincidence, and the chaos of living life, and so I cannot criticize his ending as too abrupt, too inconsistent, without wondering if he absolutely did it on purpose simply to prove a point. Was it an error in coherence or a reminder of persistent pandemonium?
Whichever the case, I highly recommend Sunset Park as among some of Auster’s best contemporary work and believe it will appeal to Auster fans as well as a casual reader.