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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Leviathan - Paul Auster ****

I can't remember the last time I read a book that was so emotionally draining as Paul Auster's Leviathan. I have been reading it at work for the last week or so, and finally in the home stretch of the last hundred pages today, I started walking around with my head down and my coworkers kept asking if I was okay. That's a feat to behold.

Auster's books are some of the most finely crafted works I have ever had the pleasure of reading. Maybe the stories don't always get wrapped up cleanly, or the characters seem motiveless and unlikeable at times, but each sentence is a well-delivered punch. In Leviathan, Auster's narrator talks about his approach to writing fiction, how he painstakingly hammers out each word, and it wouldn't surprise me in the slightest if he were reflecting on his own style. Or else he's just really lucky and knows how to put ideas perfectly into amazingly worded sentences that form paragraphs of unparalleled power. In that case, screw him for not having to work hard when the rest of us do.

But Leviathan isn't just about writing despite its revolving around two writers. Really, it is about the writers themselves, on a much deeper, human level. It's a story about character and what changes character and how people deal with those changes whether they want to or not. The first two thirds of the book are development of character, and the last third is a revolving door of switch-arounds of those characters that spin them, and their worlds, out of control.

That, of course, is the depressing part--seeing the people you've come to love like family (how couldn't you, as much as Auster tells you about them?) lose themselves completely. In terms of literature, it's extremely satisfying, but it is still painful to watch. As much as I loved the book, I hated it in a way, for getting me so emotionally involved without my even noticing, and then dashing all my hopes and dreams as it came to an (unfortunately expectedly) abrupt close. But then, isn't that the mark of an excellent piece of literature? Probably. But did it really have to break my heart?

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