01/27/17 12:04pm

9781627794466 (1)

I should be upfront and tell you that I was predisposed to fall in love with Paul Auster’s hefty new novel, 4 3 2 1.

Sitting on my desk when the 860-page review copy arrived in the mail was a stack of books that included Thoreau’s Walden and Civil Disobedience and Candide, both of which have recently seemed worth a revisit to me, and both of which figure prominently in the novel. Twice in the past I’ve interviewed Auster, who is a kind and engaging sort of writer, rather than a prickly and defensive one, despite his intense, sort of smoldering author’s photos and the intractability for which his work is known. 4 3 2 1 is a love song to New York, which is really the strongest character in the book, other than our quadruplicate protagonist, Archie Ferguson. I recently moved from New York after nearly 15 years, to Brattleboro, a small town in Vermont, which, oddly, also has a cameo in the weighty tome.

Those were my circumstances, which you should understand before you go out and get yourself involved with this book, because I fell for it hard, but for personal reasons, which I suppose is why we fall hard for anything.

All this is about me, the reader, and shouldn’t I get myself out of the way and let the text speak for itself? Remember, this is Paul Auster, a fiction writer who has long grappled with, in ways both playful and portentous, where the author ends and the character begins and how much of the content of the page is determined by the individual act of reading it. It feels fitting to insert myself, and the connections and coincidences, another Auster obsession, that contributed to  my love for this book.

The premise is goes like this: 4 3 2 1 charts the life and education of Archibald Ferguson, born March 3, 1947, in Newark, N.J., one month after Auster himself was born, in the same spot. March mirrors the calendar of February in non-leap years–if February 3, 1947 was a Monday, which it was, March 3 is also a Monday, so it’s an even deeper doubling. From that single child, four distinct narrative arcs develop and the first couple hundred pages move forward at breakneck speed as you struggle to differentiate between the hopes and dreams of four similar, but distinct small boys, and four similar but distinct New Jersey homesteads.

Auster is not gentle with us, and the novel brims with a parent’s anxiety for their child. Ferguson, as he is largely known throughout, though various nicknames and pen names emerge as all four grow older, falls out of trees, gets into car accidents, experiences loss and in fact dies, more than once. (more…)

05/19/16 11:25am
A few members of the "Fly By Night" flock gather on a rooftop. Photo: Creative Time/Will Star/Shooting Stars Pro

A few members of the Fly By Night flock gather on a rooftop. Photo: Creative Time/Will Star/Shooting Stars Pro

“I missed Scandal for this?” The woman behind me was not impressed as we sat on risers and watched a small fraction of the 2,000 pigeons in the avian light show Fly By Night prepare for their Brooklyn Navy Yard debut. Her question made me wonder whether I had walked deep into the Navy Yard simply to watch pigeons fly. These, my feathered nemeses, were now the star of a show; it’s a free show, sure, but one with a waiting list and a great review in The New York Times. It was akin to hearing that a childhood bully had become a movie star.

Growing up in New York City pigeons were a nuisance, not works of art. While the city has long had a tradition of rooftop pigeon coops and pigeon fanciers, to which Duke Riley, the artist behind the show, is paying tribute, their charms never seduced me. In fact, despite watching one hatch on my parents’ balcony, I’ve spent most of my life in an avian cold war, never attacking them, but convinced that they would attack me if given the chance. Was detente finally here and and happening in Brooklyn? (more…)

Brooklyn Based delivers free daily emails about the borough's best food, events, attractions and innovators. Get Brooklyn Based in your inbox--sign up here.