The Ice of Winter

Winter Journal, by Paul Auster

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You pick up memoir such as this one expecting…what? A life laid out chronologically? The failures of parenting – yours and that of your parents? Confessions and dirty linen? The titillation of romantic escapades? Saucy comments about other writers, editors, or reviewers? The summation of a life lived well or poorly?

Auster gives you some of that, but what stands out to you is the writing: the fluid, run-on style in which sentences can last half a page, paragraphs that go on interminably, but without boring, without allowing your mind to wander, making use of the first person tool of "you" instead of the usual "I,"which has that distancing feeling that a memoir deserves. A style with an affinity for lists (places he's lived, sweets he's eaten), a running rivulet of emotions regarding family, lovers, places he's been, people – good and bad – he's been related to or otherwise known. 

Somehow you expect such a memoir to rise slowly as the author encounters life's crises and victories, you expect it to end as fiction does, with crisis point and denouement, but that's not at all what Auster gives you. In places he does just that, though, but in the broader perspective he gives you things as he encounters them in memory, following their sixty-plus years.


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Does he give you any reason to doubt this work's veracity, to say to yourself, "Bullshit, he's gilding the lily there?" Only over one subject do you cock an eyebrow in such a manner: his constantly interspersed romantic conquests. Yet even here he doesn't dwell on them, he depicts them on the run, all part of the stream of life coughing its way over its now smooth-worn rocks, until, finally, the ice begins to gather, the ice of – as he tells you on the last page, "the winter of your life," in which you see, with him, the sense of an American life's hubbub. 

As memoirs go, it's one you're glad you've read.


My rating: 18 of 20 stars

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