Monday, November 22, 2010
Two Brooklyn Backdrops, Two Different Eras
Brooklyn is one of my favorite places. I can't resist the tree-lined streets, brownstones, and charming neighborhoods. For me, it is a place to enjoy a vacation, but for the characters that inhabit these books, it is a place fraught with struggle and facing the unknown, but also of expansive possibility.
In Colm Toibin's Brooklyn, we follow Eilis Lacey on her journey across the Atlantic Ocean in the 1950s from Ireland to Brooklyn to forge a new life for herself, independent of her sister and mother whom she left behind. Working in a department store by day and taking bookkeeping classes at night, she starts to carve out a life for herself and becomes further rooted in Brooklyn when she meets the love of her life there. But a tragic event pulls her back home, raising the question of whether her new life in Brooklyn was the start of something new and permanent, or just a short-lived attempt to redefine herself. This was a very readable book that can be read in just a few sittings, and the love story and the theme of the pull our past has over our future make for an intriguing story.
Paul Auster's Oracle Night is classic Auster - story lines within story lines, a very normal day quickly turning into a sinister or extraordinary one, the power of the imagination to help shape one's everyday life, and a sense of never knowing where the story might end up. Oracle Night takes place in the 1980s and tells the story of Sidney Orr, who is recovering from a mysterious illness and nursing himself back to health by writing, though a quick trip to the neighborhood stationery store sets into motion a series of unnerving events. Now that I have read three Auster novels, I can say that his inventive and engaging writing is among the best I have read in a long time. Furthermore, his books are concise but not sparse. Rather, they are rich with emotion, intensity, and downright great storytelling.