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  • ISBN-13: 9780805073201
  • ISBN-10: 0805073205


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BookPage Reviews

The redemptive power of stories

Oracle Night is the title of a novel within a novel within a novel by Paul Auster (his 11th). As we read the novel (Auster's, that is), we learn to grasp the close relationships between the tale and the tales embedded within it. Inside this maze of stories lies a formidable set of emotional risks waiting to assail the novel's narrator-hero, Sidney Orr—who is, of course, a novelist.

Orr records for us a fateful period of his life 20 years ago, when he was recovering from a near-fatal illness. By chance, he finds and purchases a beautiful blue notebook, which assumes a talismanic role in the return of both his health and his fading writing abilities. But those who live by uncanny forces suffer by them too: his encounter with the notebook leads him into unforeseen dangers and sets the story on the path towards its darker truths.

The first-person narrative dramatizes how painstaking a process it is to get a story right—to be true to its complexity, to reflect how events were really shaped in time. With neurotic thoroughness, Orr supplements his account with footnotes, in which some of the most important information about the novel's three main characters—Orr, his wife Grace, and their writer friend John Trause—is provided. The cumbersome counterpoint of main narrative and footnote on the page is at first disconcerting, at times overwhelming, but ultimately compelling. So satisfying are the concurrent accounts, so clearly dependent on each other, it's tempting to feel that Auster has outdone even Marcel Proust in demonstrating how much of a person's life must go into the retelling of even a single moment of it.

In Oracle Night, Auster displays his gift for storytelling and his almost religious regard for the power of stories. As creator of the National Story Project, Auster presented true stories from people across the country on National Public Radio. Nearly 200 of these were subsequently compiled in his anthology, I Thought My Father Was God. For Auster, a story can be both redemptive and perilous, sometimes both. That sounds like something worth believing in.

Michael Alec Rose teaches at Vanderbilt University's Blair School of Music.

 
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