Moon Palace by Paul Auster – review

I’ve really enjoyed Auster in the past, but while Moon Palace wasn’t a bad read, it also didn’t strike me as anything special. It follows Marco Stanley Fogg as he moves away to college, loses who he believes is his only real family, and then falls into chance unknowing relationship after chance relationship with his paternal family. My copy is a used copy, and I had a bit of a leg up in going over the book as whoever had it before had gone through and stickie noted whenever some reference to “moon” came up.  The only thing that really stuck out with the moon references, though, is that they popped up far more frequently in the first half of the book than in the second half. Which makes sense, because the first half of the book is the time where Fogg is in the most disconnected, desolate part of his life. Even though he doesn’t realize the significance of the people he meets in the second half of the books, as he is meeting them, the connections he forms and the life he begins to construct gradually replaces the desolation and isolation that had came before it. If I look down at the book from the top this can be physically seen in the sea of yellows post-its popping up from half the book and the handful cropping up in the other half.
So what is a “moon palace?” I think it is a testament to the castles we construct for ourselves when we are at out most insecure, our most isolated, and our most alone. It’s also something that we largely do to ourselves. The first half of Auster’s novel is Fogg doing pretty much anything he can to isolate himself, before going a bit nuts and living as a bum in Central park. Along this entire journey to bumdom he acknowledges that he routinely made the wrong choice, and that he could have easily avoided his fate at any time had he only made better choices – choices he often acknowledged as there and better before going off and doing something that was stupid and short sighted.  After falling off the cliff of his self-destruction, it is only the persistence of two friends in their efforts to find him that saves him from himself and gets him into shape for the journey takes on over the second half of the book.

Which was the start of showing how the connections we form with people are often our greatest strengths and what gets us through life. As Fogg rejoins humanity, people who figured prominently in saving him disappear to the past and their own lives just as Fogg moves into new circles, making new connections, and begins to influence new lives in positive ways by his new partaking in existence. I think this reaches its heights when Fogg embarks on a bizarre quest with his employer, Effing. He pushes Effing in his wheelchair around New York for ten days, each day with a big bag of cash in his lap, each day going to a different part of town.  This is where Fogg moves entirely into a new philosophical phase of his life, taking an active role, moving into people’s lives in big, positive ways by shelling out cash on unsuspecting strangers. It’s an energy that he takes and runs with as he contacts Effings long abandoned son, a 350 lb mountain of a man who is as forcefully peculiar in appearance as he is estranged from a secured life in academia, then venturing out further with hopes of finding a cave Effing related to Fogg in their work to prepare Effing’s obituary.

It is this journey that brings Fogg’s story to it’s inevitable close, a close that I think is pretty much a necessity for any novel that falls along these lines.  There is a bit of failure, a bit of redemption, and a concluding scene that promises that this is where the story really begins.  This expected and near essential ending is not a bad thing, but it also is not a special thing. For me this is a pretty accurate way to sum up the experience of reading Moon Palace.  It is a fine read. If you like Auster, you’re going to fall in with this and glide along to the end without any real complaints. Even if you don’t like Auster, there is nothing here that would make you skid the book across the floor in disgust at the time spent reading it. It’s a a safe read, an easy way to spend some time if you’re between novels and unsure of what to read next.
As always, here’s a B&N link to Auster’s Moon Palace.

 

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