“Fate in the sense of what was, of what happened to be. It was something like the word “it” in the phrase “it is raining” or “it is the night.” What that “it” referred to Quinn had never known. A generalized condition of things as they were, perhaps; the state of is-ness that was the ground on which the happenings of the world took place.”
City of Glass by Paul Auster could be described as a postmodern metaphysical deconstruction of the detective novel. I don’t really know what the words “postmodern,” “metaphysical,” or “deconstruction” mean, but I suspect that almost no one does aside from three English literature Ph.D. candidates. The rest of the world just uses those words to sound smarter than they really are. So, how to describe this book without resorting to (and probably misusing) technical (so vague that they’re nonsense) terms?
City of Glass is a strange book. On one level, it’s about an author that is mistakenly hired to act as a private detective with the task of following someone around in order to keep someone else safe. On another level, it’s about identity, the transformation of a person, the plight of the homeless, dehumanization, language, and the nature of writing. And on another level it’s about Don Quixote.
The author is a character in the novel. There are chapters in which the protagonist is just reading a book. There are chapters in which a character is reading what has been written by the protagonist. It’s not your usual detective novel.
Should I read it? This book isn’t going to be for everybody. If you like really weird detective novels AND The Big Lebowski AND Important Books, if you like saying things like “postmodern post-existential metaphysical deconstruction,” or if you refer to things as “Kafka-esque” even if they aren’t in German, you should really dig this. Otherwise, I dunno, maybe give it a shot if the above-description and excerpt looked interesting. It’s a relatively short book so you won’t have wasted a lot of time if you’re just trying something new.
What’s it like? There’s a reason that it’s on bunch of lists of Important Books-it’s pretty dang original. I haven’t read anything super-similar to this.
Is it easy to read? Surprisingly, yes. Its vocabulary is pretty easy, and its sentences are simple and short. The plot is also pretty straightforward (barely existent, really). The challenge is figuring out what it means and if you care.
Is it fun? That’s going to depend on whether you like theories about the authorship of Don Quixote.
Is it an Important Book or just pulp fun? It’s an Important Book. I haven’t decided yet if it thinks it’s too important.
Can I give it to a kid for a present? I wouldn’t, but not because there’s anything too terribly graphic in it. The kid would probably just be bored by it.