Understanding Paul Auster is a comprehensive companion to the work of a writer who effectively balances a particular combination of Jewish American identity and European sensibility across an impressive breadth of novels, screenplays, essays, and poetry. James Peacock views Auster as chiefly concerned with the individual's problematic relationship with language, a theme present from the enigmatic poetry of Auster's early career to the more inclusive and optimistic imaginings of the films Smoke and Blue in the Face and the novels Timbuktu, The Brooklyn Follies, and Man in the Dark.
Peacock's study maps the evolution of Auster's fiction and its forms, goals, and influences. Peacock argues that the key event for any Auster character is the realization that language should not be restricted to documenting reality but should instead be embraced for its metaphorical qualities and constantly shifting nature. Peacock finds in Auster a view of language as inherently ethical and communal because, to use language creatively, one must be immersed in the plurality of experience and listen to the voices of others. In celebrated works such as The Invention of Solitude and The New York Trilogy, these voices include Auster's literary antecedents. Increasingly in his recent work, however, they include those of ordinary people. Peacock suggests that in the aftermath of 9/11, much of Auster's fiction places even greater importance on sympathetic relations with ordinary individuals and advocates through artistic endeavors the merits of connecting with others.
James Peacock is a lecturer in English and American literatures at Keele University in the United Kingdom. His articles on contemporary American fiction and Quakerism in American literature have appeared in the Journal of American Studies, English, Quaker Studies, and other publications.