Consolidating Capital

Messerli, now his most important gatekeeper, had a personal touch and was able to get Auster good local reviews: Carolyn See in the Los Angeles Times, Frederick Stout in the San Francisco Examiner, and Judy Foosaner in the San Francisco Chronicle. They all liked the book. “The daily New York Times basically ignored us, didn’t care,” said Messerli, but Auster was owed favors, and he received a valuable payback review from W. S. Merwin in the New York Times Book Review. Merwin called the book “dramatic” and devoted half of his review to summarizing the content: “ ‘The Invention of Solitude’ has some of the virtues and rawness of letters written under stress. The clearest and most telling passages—including those that convey glimpses of remoteness, absence and speechlessness—are direct and immediate and seem to have emerged more or less as they are out of the guiding impulse.” Auster, he continued, “has been a gifted, sensitive, learned translator of contemporary

French literature, especially poetry, and ... his book was conceived and begun with honesty, earnestness, and intelligence.”87 But the second part of the book, Merwin averred, was “marred by recurrent pointless mannerisms apparently suggested by contemporary French ‘experimental’ writing— among them a tendency toward ponderous and sententious notation.” Not exactly a favor fully requited. But other reviewers liked the book. Both the San Francisco Review of Books and the American Book Review praised Solitude and managed to leave out Merwin’s note about the Frenchiness.88

In 1985 City of Glass not only put Auster in the attention space but at the center of it. The first of his “New York Trilogy,” it appeared to positive reviews by the Los Angeles Times and New York Times and three journals. A paperback edition of Solitude came out, capitalizing on the poetry anthology, and Merwin’s review was re-published in the New York Times, leaving out the cranky material. The Sunday Times commissioned a second review, by Toby Olson, which called City of Glass “remarkable” and termed its New York setting “reminiscent of that wasted city in Nathanael West’s ‘Miss Lonelyhearts.’”89 Olson even praised the Frenchiness of the writing: “Each detail, each small revelation must be attended to as significant. And such attention brings ambiguity, confusion and paranoia. Is it important that Quinn’s dead son has the same name as Stillman? What can it mean that ‘Quinn’ rhymes with ‘twin’ and ‘sin’?” While identifying Auster primarily as an essayist and anthologist, Olson nonetheless concluded that “one can only wait with much anticipation for the second installment of this strange and powerful new adventure in his art.” Auster would go on to make small waves in the United States, but he was not yet the phenomenon he would become.

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