Stillman's Maze

    Escaping from the Locked Room: Overthrowing the Tyranny of Artifice in Paul Auster's New York Trilogy
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This thesis was submitted to fulfill part of the requirements for an Honors degree in English at Davidson College on 30 April 1993. I wish to thank Paul Auster for allowing me to conduct a very revealing interview with him, which, unfortunately, cannot be published in full at this time. I also need to thank my committee, without whose efforts during my four years at Davidson this essay would never have been written: Dr. David Long, Dr. Karl Plank, and especially my thesis advisor, Dr. Gail Gibson.

Paul Auster is a poet, critic, translator, and novelist. He has published eight novels (including a popular detective novel under a pseudonym), four volumes of poetry, a memoir (on the death of his father), and collection of essays. He has translated various texts from the French, including A Tomb for Anatole (a series of poem fragments by Stephane Mallarme) and pieces by Jean-Paul Sartre and Jacques Dupin. He is also the editor of The Random House Book of Twentieth Century French Poetry. He has received two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, one for poetry and one for prose. His first novel, City of Glass, was nominated for an Edgar award for best mystery of the year, and in 1988 he received the Prix France-Culture de Litterature Etrangere for the best work by a foreign author. In 1990, he received the Morton Dauwen Zabel Award, which is given to "a fiction writer of original, progressive, and experimental tendencies." One of his most recent novels, The Music of Chance, was nominated for the 1991 PEN/Faulkner Award.

Auster is a consciously literary writer who drops names and plays with conventions in an effort to reexamine conventional literature and its structures. His novels employ many elements and themes of the "classic" novel, such as the growth of a child into an adult, the quest for an individual identity apart from one's family and culture, and the eternal story of the fall from grace and the redemption that follows. But instead of using conventional endings to round out these themes and create a symmetry of structure which follows the pattern of sin and redemption, Auster ends his novels with disarray and confusion, in which infinite possibilities become the only thing of which the reader can be sure. There are no traditionally happy endings in Auster's fiction; instead, the reader is challenged to create his own story by imagining the possibilities of the world that lies beyond the realm of artifice.

Auster's New York Trilogy is comprised of three short novels (City of Glass, Ghosts, and The Locked Room) whose themes and ideas interweave and overlap to explore the nature of language and meaning through the conventions of a "hard boiled" detective novel. The detective's quest for a solution to the mystery is here transmuted to the search for meaning in the world and in the language that renders the world into words.

Auster's detectives are all very straightforward, both in their manners and their speech; when we are first introduced to them, they all believe that "each word [tallies] the thing described" and that "words are transparent...great windows that stand between [them] and the world" (The New York Trilogy 174). Two of them are even writers by trade, men who use the written word to communicate with people they have never met. But as the three protagonists progress in their cases, they each begin to realize that "words do not necessarily work, that it is possible for them to obscure the things that they are trying to say" (NYT 176). Language becomes suspect to the detectives (and henceforth the readers) due to its multiplicitous nature—a barrier between oneself and others, rather than a means of clear communication. The world becomes a giant city of glass with each person trapped in a room by him- or herself, where we can all see one another, but no one can hear a word that the others say.

The locked room convention of classic mystery fiction becomes here a central metaphor which reoccurs throughout the trilogy. Almost all of the main characters are shown trapped in some kind of locked room, mental or physical, from which they must escape in order to be free. Of course, the first part of escaping is to realize that one is trapped; Auster's characters, and in turn the readers who involve themselves in those characters' stories, are slowly and subtly pushed into the locked room of madness, from which logic and reason provide no escape. But then the characters do escape, through a cathartic act of personal will that not only makes them realize the boundaries of the cages that they have been confined to, but which, in so doing, provides the keys with which they can open the doors and escape from the control that is being exerted over them.

The situation of someone trapped in a locked room without knowing that he or she is confined is analogous to the plight of the characters in a book—as well as the readers of that book. For the readers, in addition to the characters, are fated to follow the dictates of the author because it is the author who chooses the setting, the action, and the plot. Auster chooses to use the detective genre in the trilogy at least in part because the rigid conventions of this form underline the set "roles" that the reader, the author, and the characters are supposed to play in the creation of the book. There is, in most contemporary fiction—and especially in the genre of detective fiction—a tyranny in artifice that restricts each of a book's contributors (i.e., the author, the characters, the readers, and the narrator) to a certain set of actions.

Peter Huhn discusses these roles in his article "The Detective as Reader: Narrativity and Reading Concepts in Detective Fiction." Huhn claims that "[t]he plot of the classical detective novel comprises two basically separate stories—the story of the crime (which consists of action) and the story of the investigation (which is concerned with knowledge)" (452). The detective is both a reader and a writer: he reads the crime, "a hidden story inscribed in everyday reality" (454) in the events of the past, and then interprets that past in such a way that the mystery conforms to an acceptable reality. In light of this, Huhn says that "the text of the novel can be said to have two authors (at least): the criminal (who wrote the original mystery story [by committing the crime]) and the detective (who writes the reconstruction of the first story)" (458). The detective's job is to take the unsolved crime, which "functions as an uninterpretable sign" (453) and "threatens the validity of the established order" (452), and interpret it so that "his final explanation—disclosing the criminal's story as well as the history of his [the detective's] detection—closes the meaning of both texts effectively and thus...[stabilizes] the meaning of all signs" (458). The problem with these conventions for the reader, however, is that "in both cases the story is hidden for the most part so that the reader is doubly puzzled—trying to make out the mysterious crime story by way of the almost equally mystifying detection story" (452). The power of the reader to be a decoder of signs is taken away by the rigid conventions of the classical detective story; he or she must rely on the God-like near-omnipotence of the detective for a proper reading of reality's text. This powerlessness on the reader's part is indicative of the general relationship between all readers and all authors. Seen in this light, texts become locked rooms to which only the author has the keys.

But Auster destroys the conventions associated with the detective novel, and with books and reading in general, by having his characters become aware of their existences as characters; all of them, by the end of the book, have come to the realization that they have been locked in a room and are being forced to speak words and commit actions that they do not necessarily choose. They have been placed in a labyrinth by the author, a maze which often gives them the illusion of control, but which in truth is designed especially for them (or are they designed especially for it?), so that what appear to be choices on their parts are actually predestined actions determined for them by the invisible author. Once they realize this, however, they are able to overthrow the tyranny of artifice by defying the literary conventions which rule their world: all of the protagonists in the trilogy actually escape from the confines of the book by its end. Their stories do not stop, but instead the characters themselves take control. The author no longer has power over their lives; the characters disappear from the artifice of his making to become their own authors, writing the book of their lives.

There are several examples of the subversion of traditional roles in City of Glass, the first book in the trilogy. The text is so purposefully complex and labyrinthine that the reader cannot help but be aware that reading is an effort to compete linguistically with the author—but then that competition is rendered mute by the protagonist's escape from the world of words that has crafted around him at the novel's end. The subversive nature of the text is further stressed by the emphasis on language and words throughout the text—smaller linguistic contests that often lead the reader to dead or at least circular ends. The title, for example: it implies a city where everything is transparent, where one can see everything, but which still has barriers which prevent true communication. It also suggests mirrors, a locked room where the people think that they are free to move around in an infinity of space, but where in reality they are trapped in a room with a mirror on each wall, so that the infinite space that the character sees is really a tiny room, and the other people that he sees are no more than doubles of himself.

In fact, Auster uses doubles, or Doppelgangers, throughout the trilogy to underscore the confused identities of his characters; it is as if they cannot exist as truly unique individuals while trapped within the confines of the artifice. His protagonist, Daniel Quinn, a writer of detective novels, lives his life through the lives of William Wilson, his pseudonym, and Max Work, the protagonist of his detective novels. William Wilson is also the name of one of Poe's stories, in which a character by the name of William Wilson is foiled in his attempts to do harm to others by a Doppelganger, an exact twin physically but an exact opposite morally—a superego to the character's id. Quinn double Wilson, therefore, is a literary reference to another story about doublings. Quinn also shares his initials with Don Quixote, another foiled and confused questor whose story is about the strange line between artifice and reality. Daniel Quinn has a third physical twin in the shape of "Paul Auster," a fictional character created by Auster the real-life novelist, whose life is an alternate-universe possibility of Quinn own, and whose name Quinn assumes. Both of these Austers are also doubles for the real-life novelist in one way or another: like Quinn, he has written a pseudonymous popular detective novel, and has thought about posing as a detective as a result of a random phone call mistaking his number for that of the Pinkerton Agency; and like "Auster", he is a writer and literary critic, and is, we are led to believe for a while, the author of this text. "Auster's" son is another double for Quinn: they are both named Daniel. And not coincidentally, "Auster" is writing an article on the problems of doubling and the difference between art and reality in Don Quixote. Yet despite all these doubles, all of these supposed points of reference, we are in a hall of mirrors; we still have no idea who Daniel Quinn really is.

Peter Stillman is another character in City of Glass with many doubles. First of all, there are two actual Peter Stillmans: a father and his son share the name. Quinn also sees the younger Peter Stillman as a stand-in for his own lost son, which in turn links him with "Auster's" son Daniel. The older Peter Stillman also has a Doppelganger in the train station: when he goes to the station to begin his tail of Stillman, Quinn is forced to choose between two old men getting off the same train who look exactly alike except for their attire. One man is shabbily dressed and carrying a battered old leather satchel and the other is wearing a fashionable suit and has an expensive new leather briefcase. Either one of them could be Stillman, depending on how he fared in the mental hospital to which he has been confined for the last fifteen years. At this point Quinn is confronted with the first of the many arbitrary choices that he will be forced to make during the course of the narrative. This arbitrariness reinforces the idea that there is some one else in control of the story: like Schroedinger's quantum cat which is both dead and alive until it is viewed, either of these old men is Stillman until Quinn makes his arbitrary decision and names one of them as his suspect. And even though many of the later "facts" encountered in the narrative suggest that his choice was correct, we are never completely sure. Like Quinn himself, we have no idea who Peter Stillman really is—either of them.

The purpose of all this doubling has two basic purposes. First of all, it shows both the characters and the readers how little control we have over the story when it follows rigid conventions, especially when we are content to sit back and let the author dictate events to us without an equal imaginative contribution on our parts. There are many, many possibilities that are simply abandoned by the protagonist, not because they are not worth pursuing, but because an arbitrary choice to pursue one or the other must be made. The second purpose is to manipulate us into extreme confusion by giving us so many unpursued options that every event in the world seems like coincidence or chance that could either hold a whole world of meaning or none at all. Like the protagonists in these novels, we must realize that without our own imaginative powers contributing to the meaning of the book, the text is simply a maze of dead ends. Auster refuses to give us a conventional ending in which all the loose ends are tied up. Or as Auster says: "It's not a mathematical equation to solve. One hopes it's inexhaustible, and that you're going to keep thinking about it, and keep testing your reactions and come up with new things" (Personal interview 12 [see Appendix]). We must, like Quinn at the end of the book, realize the power of our own imagination and choice to escape from the tyranny of the artifice into a world where we are the creators just as much as the author of the text.

There is also much discussion about the malleability of language—the so-called double meanings of word—in this text, which further underscores the themes of ambiguity, arbitrariness, and the necessity of choice. For example, a few days after he has been following the elder Stillman around the streets of New York, Quinn notices that the routes that Stillman is taking seem to be attempts on Stillman's part to create gigantic, invisible letters on the street; Quinn traces their route out for the fourth day and discovers the letter "O," the fifth day produces a "W," and on and on until the eleventh day when he has "OWEROFBAB." Quinn guesses the first four letters (another element of uncertainty), and arrives at the conclusion that Stillman is spelling out "THE TOWER OF BABEL," because he knows that Stillman is obsessed with that biblical story.

This incident illustrates many of the themes that I have brought up so far. First of all, the story of the Tower of Babel is one about the confusion of language, the barrier that words have become in the fallen world, where one word can have several meanings and one object can have several names. Secondly, it brings up another element of uncertainty, in that not only does Quinn have to guess at the first four letters (because at that point he was not writing down the route that Stillman followed), but also because Quinn is never sure whether Stillman is really writing these letters on purpose or whether he, Quinn, is just imagining them. Curiously, Quinn does not actually trace out the route on days twelve and thirteen to confirm his suspicions; we are left without the confirming "el." And, as Quinn himself points out, "el" is the Hebrew word for "God," so that we are, in effect, left without the assurance of God in this book. In literary terms, God signifies an absolute, a standard by which we can measure the world; the possible absence of an absolute from the text again leads us to question again why some arbitrary leads are followed in Quinn case and others abandoned.

Alison Russell's article "Deconstructing The New York Trilogy: Paul Auster's Anti-Detective Fiction" discusses many of these themes. Quinn search for the elder Peter Stillman becomes a search for his own lost father and, in turn, a search for the Father, the dispenser of the logos, the Word: "Quinn pursuit of the Father is a search for authority and 'author-ity.' In looking for the creator of logos, he is looking for his own creator as well, but his investigation is subverted by Auster's authorial duplicity" (74). Quinn, like the readers, expect Auster, the omniscient creator of the novel with God-like powers, to use his words to establish order out of chaotic reality. But Auster, through his use of doubling of both identity and language, subverts the traditional role of the author by confusing the author's role with that of the characters' and the readers'. In so doing, he is indirectly asking us to reexamine those roles.

Quinn's (and possibly the readers') first clue that the madness of the world around him might be due to the conventions that the author is using rather than to Quinn himself comes when, while waiting for Stillman's train to arrive at the station, he notices that the girl next to him is reading one of Quinn's pseudonymous novels. Up until now, he has assumed that the clarity of his language and his ability to make up intricate and entertaining plots prevented his readers from getting anything but enjoyment from the books. Quinn becomes agitated because this stranger is "casually skimming the pages that had cost him so much effort" (NYT 64). Still, he decides to ask her if she likes the book, but he becomes even more upset when she tells him that she has "read better...and worse" (NYT 64). It is at this point that Quinn has the revelation that the people who read his words are as important to the story as the author is; the interpreters are as important as the speaker. m is incident reinforces the theme of the malleability of language: the words that Quinn has written do not have the same meaning to him as they do to this one reader, or to any of his other readers, for that matter. Quinn realizes that no matter how simply and clearly he writes something, it will still be open to as many different interpretations as there are readers; the power of the story will not necessarily derive from the power of the author, but rather from the power of the imagination and the willingness to use that power of the reader of the text.

These themes can also be seen metafictionally in the way that Auster uses language in this novel. His prose is spare, almost stripped down to nothing, conveying only essentially information, leaving most of the descriptions of place and setting to be filled in, consciously or unconsciously, by his readers' imaginations. His language, in fact, consciously imitates the style of hard-boiled detective stories, which, according to LeRoy Lad Panek, "consists of six elements: direct, uncluttered, active description; jokes and wisecracks; slang and street talk; purposely ungrammatical dialogue; clipped descriptions of events which have serious implications; and metaphors that vividly apprehend the everyday experience of the common man" (153-4). All of these elements, with the possible exception of ungrammatical dialogue, are found in each volume of the trilogy—especially the "direct, uncluttered, and active description."

And yet despite this minimalist approach to writing and the seemingly unclouded events presented to the protagonist (and the readers), there remain so many possibilities of meaning in this book that the only way to read it is by abandoning the search for one absolute interpretation, and accepting that this text, like the world and reality, are necessarily constructions of the reader/viewer. Then the reader is free to use this newly gained self-awareness to bring his or her own meaning to the text. By leaving so many blank spaces in a genre of fiction where "there is nothing wasted, no sentence, no word that is not significant" (NYT 9) and by not even giving us, in the end, a "true" detective solving a "real" crime, Auster turns the attention away from the plot and the search for a solution that will unify the book to the search for meaning in the text. Quinn's search for meaning among the clues becomes our search for meaning among the words, and we, like he, must realize that life does not follow the conventions of a novel, just as his real-life detective case does not follow the conventions of one of his detective novels.

Perhaps the best example of how the reader fills in blank spaces left by the author comes from Auster himself, in an interview conducted by Larry McCaffrey and Sinda Gregory:

[Fairy tales] are bare-boned narratives, narratives largely devoid of details, yet enormous amounts of information are communicated in a very short space, with very few words. What fairy tales prove, I think, is that it's the reader—or the listener—who actually tells the story to himself. The text is no more than a springboard for the imagination. 'Once upon a time there was a girl who lived with her mother in a house at the edge of a large wood.' You don't know what the girl looks like, you don't know what color the house is, you don't know if the mother is tall or short, fat or thin, you know next to nothing. But the mind won't allow these things to remain blank; it fills in the details itself, it creates images based on its own memories and experiences—which is why these stories resonate so deeply inside us. The listener becomes an active participant in the story. (57)

Detective stories, like fairy tales, leaving many blanks to be filled in by the reader. But in the trilogy, Auster, through the process of making his characters self-aware, encourages the readers to realize their own potential as creators in the telling of the story, to become conscious of the ways in which they shape the book. Rather than confining us to the role of unconsciously filling in the blanks, Auster instead forces us to recognize the power of our imagination in constructing the text.

One of the key incidents in the trilogy in terms of exploring the relationship between the author, the characters, and the readers, comes when Quinn goes to "Paul Auster's" apartment and they end up discussing "Auster's" article on Don Quixote. "Auster's" idea is that there are four authors in the text, each of whom is the author of one layer, but who is in turn controlled by the author above him. It cannot be Don Quixote, because it is written in third person, so Sancho Panza must be the author, "since he is the only one who accompanies Don Quixote on all his adventures. But Sancho can neither read nor write" (NYT 118), so there must be another author above him. "Auster" proposes that it is Don Quixote friends, who transcribe Sancho's story, have it translated into Arabic, and then leave it in the market where Cervantes finds it and translates it back into Spanish. "Auster" then postulates that his friends do this in order "to cure Don Quixote of his madness" (NYT 118), so that they are in some sense the authors of the text. But then he hypothesizes that "Don Quixote...was not really mad. He only pretended to be. In fact, he orchestrated the whole thing himself" (NYT 119). So in fact, Don Quixote, despite being the subject of the book, is in fact, through his control of his friends and his manipulation of the text at various points ("Auster" says that it was probably Quixote himself who translated the text back into Spanish from Arabic for Cervantes) the supreme author. Though he has managed to remove himself totally from the text in an authorial way, he is in fact the orchestrator of the events and how they were chronicled.

What makes this section most interesting is the question of "why would a man like Don Quixote disrupt his tranquil life to engage in such an elaborate hoax" (NYT 119). In "Auster's" opinion,

Don Quixote was conducting an experiment. He wanted to test the gullibility of his fellow men. Would it be possible, he wondered, to stand up before the world and with the utmost conviction spew out lies and nonsense? To say that windmills were knights, that a barber's basin was a helmet, that puppets were real people? Would it be possible to persuade others to agree with what he said, even though he did not believe him. In other words, to what extent would people tolerate total blasphemies if they gave them amusement? (NYT 120)

Given the complex question of authorial voice in City of Glass, this passage does not exactly give any clues to the solution, but rather gives us a new angle from which to ask questions about the text, and makes us question our former questions regarding its author and purpose. The novel is supposedly written by Paul Auster, the real-life novelist. But in a curious note at the end of the book after Quinn has escaped from the locked room of the text, the third-person omniscient narrator steps forth and speaks in first person, telling us that he copied the story out of the red notebook that belonged to Quinn, after having received it from "Auster," and that "any inaccuracies should be blamed on me...but I have done my best with it and have refrained from any interpretation" (NYT 158). Like Don Quixote, we are here left without any author of the text. Quinn is ruled out, because he is the subject, and is most likely being manipulated by the elder (and possibly the younger) Peter Stillman, as we see at the end of the book. The story has supposedly been copied straight out of the red notebook, but from the descriptions that we have read of what it contains, it is at best an imperfect copy with much added by a secondary author later. But the various Austers are ruled out because it is from Auster that the unnamed narrator receives the text. Again we are left with riddles within riddles wherein the author is lost among the various levels.

Obviously, whether "Auster" is right or wrong about the author of Don Quixote, this passage suggests that we should not approach texts as riddles to be solved, but rather as "springboard[s] for the imagination" ("An Interview with Paul Auster" 57). Books should make one think, and lead one to self-consciously reorder the world as an act of creation, just as the writer has consciously ordered some sort of reality in the book as a way of "penetrating the world and finding one's place in it" (Moon Palace 170) through art and artistic creation. This is why it is so important for the reader to realize his or her creative role in the text, and write the story for him- or herself so that it provides a new way of seeing the world and understanding one's place in it. If one simply read and believed in whatever the writer said, then the conventions of the novel would take over real life, since, as Auster says, "reality is something we invent" (Personal interview 2). If our blueprints for looking at the world were the conventions of novels, then our reality would become nothing more than an attempt to fit our lives onto those patterns.

In this perspective, the events at the end of City of Glass take on added importance. Quinn has taken this case in order to protect the younger Peter Stillman from his father. Over the course of his research, he learns that the elder Peter Stillman had once been a famous scholar, but had gone mad in his obsessive search for man's original language, the prelapsarian language of Adam and Eve. In an attempt to discover this language, he had locked up the younger Peter Stillman in a dark room and denied him any contact with other human beings in order to see if his son would start speaking a language without human intervention. Again, we are presented with a locked room, a person being manipulated without his knowing it; the elder Stillman is a perverse author attempting to control his son's life, to make his son into a character.

There is evidence that perhaps he is doing the same thing to Quinn. The reader has the sense from early on that Stillman, as mad as he is, perhaps knows that he is being followed: the letters that he writes on the streets of New York with his footprints are written for someone, and when Quinn goes mad and camps out in front of the younger Peter Stillman's apartment for several weeks, it is as if someone knew him well enough to know that his logical decision following the elder Stillman's disappearance would be to wait for him at the younger Stillman's building. In other words, the author of this story is whoever engineered the elder Peter Stillman's disappearance, so that Quinn free choice in this matter becomes instead his expected reaction given the course of events. Quinn is not choosing, but rather reacting exactly as expected to the events that have been orchestrated for his benefit—just like a character in a book.

When Quinn partially regains his sanity and tries to pick up the pieces of his life, he discovers that it is in ruins: his apartment, with all of his papers and personal items, has been emptied out and leased to a new occupant. He also discovers that the elder Stillman, whom Quinn has been seeking for so long, committed suicide weeks ago (adding another twist to the search for an author in this story, since if Stillman is dead before the end of the story, he cannot possibly its creator); the case to which he has devoted himself to the point of insanity was closed by events weeks earlier. Not knowing what else to do, Quinn returns to the younger Stillman's now-abandoned apartment, sits down in a small room, takes off his clothes, and goes to sleep on the floor. There follows a period of weeks, in which Quinn literally lives in a locked room: someone brings him food when he is asleep and controls the number of hours of light that he receives each day. He is now a parallel to both the younger Peter Stillman (locked in a room by a faceless someone), a character in a story (placed in an artificial box of some unseen person's design), and the reader of a story (simply accepting and following the course of events that have been orchestrated by the author).

The most important moment in this book, however, comes when we learn that after an indefinite period of time, Quinn notebook is discovered by "Auster" and the strange unnamed narrator of the story in the otherwise empty room in the younger Stillman's apartment. From the writings in the notebook, it becomes clear that, despite the manipulations that are being imposed on him by his captor, he is gaining a greater awareness of himself and of his own creative abilities:

Quinn no longer had any interest in himself. He wrote about the stars, the earth, his hopes for mankind. He felt that his words had been severed from him, that now they were a part of the world at large, as real and specific as a stone, or a lake, or a flower....Nothing mattered now but the beauty of all this. He wanted to go on writing about it, and it pained him to know that this would not be possible....He wondered if he had it in him to write without a pen, if he could learn to speak instead, filling the darkness with his voice, speaking the words into the air, into the walls, into the city, even if the light never came back again.

The last sentence of the red notebook reads: "What will happen when there are no more pages in the red notebook?" (NYT 156-7)

This is the last that we see of Quinn in the novel. But we learn that, following his transformation into a poet, a namer of things, he has vanished from the framework of the text. His own imaginative power has allowed him to overthrow the tyranny of artifice that has been set up around him and to escape from the locked room of the novel, into the real world of experience and creation. Quinn has become his own author, and as a result, the author of City of Glass is no longer able to have control over him. The story ends not with a conventional ending that ties together all the loose ends of the text, and not because Quinn story is over, but because Quinn has come to realize the power of his own imagination, and has escaped from the artificial reality of the text into one of his making. The conventions of the genre have been destroyed by Quinn escape, leaving us to question the conventions of all novels, and our role as readers of those texts.

City of Glass is a powerful novel that can stand on its own, and likewise this analysis of the text is strong enough to stand without more proof. But the theme of the text as a locked room from which it is possible for both the characters and the readers to escape, instead of merely following the dictates of the author, is developed even more overtly in the next two books in the trilogy. Ghosts, the second installment of the trilogy, uses many of the same devices (such as the conventions of the detective novel, doubling, and locked rooms) to explore the relationship between the author, the characters, and the readers of a text.

The meaning of the title of the book is made explicit in a passage on pages 207-9, in which we learn that "ghosts" are both people in the past, in history and in our personal experience, and writers themselves: "Writing is a solitary business. It takes over your life. In some sense, a writer has no life of his own. Even when he's there, he's not really there" (NYT 209). All of us are surrounded by ghosts, from our personal histories and from the larger histories that shaped the world. In addition, the writer becomes representative of the human experience: words, the only medium through which we can attempt to communicate with one another, can obscure as much as they reveal, and so in some sense, we are all ghosts, able to see each other, but, because of the fallibility of words, unable to genuinely communicate with each other. The writer is the epitome of this dilemma, both because the world that he lives in—the world of books—is made up of the phantom-shapes of the characters who inhabit those books, and because he attempts to communicate with people who do not really exist for him in reality, since a writer seldom meets many of the people who have read his books.

In other words, the writer is writing for and about ghosts, not to mention the fact that the reader is reading a book by and about ghosts. For even when you are in the physical presence of a writer, he or she is still not really there, because the summation of a writer's life is tied up in the things that he or she has written. As Auster says in the interview with McCaffrey and Gregory: "if all [my] books were put together in one volume, they would form the book of my life so far" (54). At the same time, Auster seems to say, the author's job is to make himself absent from the story in order to let the story tell itself, so that even in his books, which define him, he is somehow absent—a ghost, whose presence lingers and influences, but who cannot be defined. Is it any surprise then, that in Ghosts, just as in City of Glass, the author's identity is in question throughout the text?

Ghosts, like City of Glass, also uses the detective's quest for a solution to a mystery as a metaphor for the individual's search for self (specifically the protagonist's search for an identity outside of the framework of the text) and the reader's search for meaning in the text. In this novel, the detective is a "real" one (as opposed to Quinn, who is merely a writer of detective stories who experiments with pretending to be a detective). He is named Blue, and he is hired at the beginning of the novel by a man named White to watch a man named Black. The apartment from which he will watch Black has already been rented for him by White, and includes food and several suits of clothes that fit Blue exactly. It is designed so that Blue can sit at a desk and write in a notebook while watching Black—who is also sitting at his desk across the street and writing in his notebook.

Already we can see the metaphor of the locked room: for Blue is confined to this room, and the options open to him are limited, especially since his only job is to sit and watch Black and write down everything that he sees. Just like Peter Stillman, or Daniel Quinn, or any character in a novel, he has been placed in a locked room, an artifice which controls his actions and his destiny. Despite the fact that Blue is supposedly the one writing about Black, it is actually Black who is the author, the controller of the situation, because it is his actions that dictate what Blue will write. Even when Blue leaves the locked room which White has rented for him, it is only to follow Black. His actions are no longer his own, but rather fated for him depending on Black's actions. This situation becomes even more mysterious and raises even more questions about authors and characters when we learn that Black, posing as White, was probably the man who hired him in the first place.

Ghosts is even more overtly about words than City of Glass. It is the story of Blue's journey from linguistic naivete to linguistic experience, which eventually leads him to realize his own creative power over words and to escape from the locked room in which Black/White/the unnamed narrator has placed him. In the beginning of the novel, Blue believes that "each word [tallies] the thing described" and that "words are transparent...great windows that stand between him and the world" (NYT 174). He comes to a linguistic dilemma, however, when he is writing his first report of Black's activities, which have consisted mainly of sitting at his desk across the street and reading and writing. After reading over his report, Blue discovers that the few details that he has written down in his notebook do not adequately describe how he and Black have spent the last week: "For the first time in his experience of writing reports, he discovers that words do not necessarily work, that it is possible for them to obscure the things that they are trying to say" (NYT 176).

Part of the reason that this difficulty with words occurs is that this is the first time that Blue has had to interpret what he has seen: "In every report he has written so far, action holds forth over interpretation" (NYT 174). But in this case, his subject has done so little that it is up to Blue as an observer to decide which of his subject's few actions are important to the case. Adding to his dilemma is the fact that White refused to tell Blue why he wanted Black watched in the first place; Blue does not even know the basic facts of the case, which, for lack of any point of reference, makes it even harder for him to interpret Black's actions. He does not know who has hired him to observe Black, except that a man wearing a disguise and calling himself White wanted Blue to observe Black for an indefinite period of time. White did not give Blue any details, any clues which might help him decipher Black's actions. Given the probability that Black and White are the same person, Blue begins to understand that this other person has hired Blue to watch him watching Blue, and on and on, like two mirrors facing each other, holding nothing but a small artificial space, but creating the illusion of infinity.

After confirming to his own satisfaction that Black and White are the same person (although we as readers are never really sure), Blue decides to confront Black. Blue follows him to a bar, where they both order Black and Whites, and assumes the role of an insurance salesman named Snow. Black also assumes a role, and tells Blue that he is a private detective who has been hired to watch a man and write down everything that he does. The man he is supposedly watching is, of course, Blue himself, which brings up the possibility that both of them have been hired by someone else to sit and watch each other watching each other, which leads to an impotence akin to the two snakes who are swallowing one another. The following conversation between the two illuminates the bizarre nature of their relationship:

[Black speaking:] My job is to watch someone...and send in a report about him every week. Just that. Watch this guy and write about it. Not one damned thing more.

What's so terrible about that?

He doesn't do anything, that's what. He just sits in his room all day and writes. It's enough to drive you crazy.... I don't even have to bother [watching him] anymore. I've been watching him for so long now that I think I know him better than myself. All I have to do is think about him, and I know what he's doing. I know where he is, I know everything. It's come to the point that I can watch him with my eyes closed. (NYT 214-5)

If we believe Black, then the situation seems absurd to the point of insanity. But if we believe, as Blue does, that Black is the same man who hired Blue in the first place, then we realize that Black has somehow orchestrated the situation, and that he is playing the role of a detective only in order to confuse us further. It also returns us to the theme of the locked room: Blue has been placed in a room by Black, seemingly only so that he can be observed observing Black, which is analogous to a character being placed in an artifice by an author, as well as to the readers who also enter into that artifice. In this case, Black/White controls Blue by "thrusting [him] into an empty room...and then turning off the light and locking the door" (NYT 201). This sentence, in addition to describing what happened to the younger Peter Stillman in City of Glass and what will happen to Fanshawe literally and the narrator figuratively in The Locked Room, also serves as a metaphor for the writer and the characters, as well as the audience and the characters: while observing these other people, we slowly become aware that their stories remind us of our own, and that they force us to look subjectively, not objectively, at the events in the story. Like Blue when he is forced to sit around and watch Black do nothing all day, we start to realize that the story being told here is not that of the characters, but that of our own. We cannot help but relate the story to our own lives, and in so doing we change it from a simply objective detective story with one correct solution into a mirror that reflects the reader back at himself.

An anecdote from my interview with Auster illustrates how the reader incorporates his or her own experiences and personal history into the fabric of the story:

I had this incredibly strange illumination a number of years ago about what happens to me when I'm reading a novel. I think I was reading Jane Austen...and I realized as I was reading the book that I couldn't actually see where anything was taking place. I was imagining all the scenes and all the conversations, all the chapters of this book as taking place in the living room of the house where I grew up. My parents' house. And that's where all the characters had come. And so I began to think about this: well, it's curious how you appropriate a book—I mean, what did Jane Austen know about New Jersey? And yet I had made the book my own, I had peopled my own life with these characters. It wasn't as though I had gone into 18th century England; I had brought her into the 20th century with me. (9)

These reflections become very relevant to Ghosts and the relationships between the writer, the reader, and the characters when we look at another comment from the same interview: "[Ghosts] is a parable about reading a book. It recreates the steps in the process one goes through in reading a novel" (4). Reading a book can be a learning experience, provided that we use our imaginations as readers as actively as the writer used his or hers while writing it. But to the readers (and writers) caught up in the conventions of literature, reading can become a false experience, a substitute for real life instead of a springboard that allows us to expand our views of ourselves and the world around us.

Auster, I believe, points out this hazard by making his characters aware that, like some readers, they are trapped in the locked room of a conventionally structured novel whose structures lead only back to the text itself, and not to the world that exists outside of the novel. Like Blue and Black watching each other, conventional structures lead to nothing but an illusion of real space, an illusion that actually confines its inhabitants: "a desire [on the part of the authors] to manipulate,...mechanical plot devices, the urge to tie everything up,the happy endings in which everyone turns out to be related to everyone else" ("An Interview with Paul Auster" 52). But by having his characters become self-aware, Auster denies the artificial closure of conventional structure, and dares the readers to act as the characters have, and escape from the locked room of the artifice into the boundless world of possibilities inherent in their imaginative abilities.

Auster makes several references to the possibility of false experiences in novels that entrap instead of expand the readers' minds. Blue, after several days of doing nothing except watch Black across the street, says that "to watch someone read and write is in effect to do nothing" (NYT 166). This implies that to read something that someone else has written without using one's own imagination to recreate the text is to substitute the characters' experiences for some of one's own potential experiences that one has given up in order to read the book. In other words, to regard reading books as a creatively passive activity is to become trapped in the dead-end conventions of the novel and, essentially, to do nothing. Like Quinn, who lives his life through the lives of his pseudonym and his protagonist, and who actually has no life outside of the ones that he creates for his characters, we as readers deny all of the other possible experiences that we could be having when we read a book.

No matter what, reading (like writing) is a solitary experience. But Auster feels that "you don't begin to understand your connection to others until you are alone. And the more intensely you are alone, the more deeply you plunge into a state of solitude, [then] the more deeply you feel the connection" ("An Interview with Paul Auster" 59). At its best, then, a book can be a door to solitude and introspection, which will lead eventually to a realization of the self and from there to connections with other people. This is, after all, the goal of any art—especially the art of living. At its worst, a book can create an artificial environment which, because of its ability to tie everything together in the end, makes most people's actual experiences seem disjointed and unreal. Rather than using the solitude involved in reading a book as a search for the self of the reader, a novel with too many conventions can entrap its readers, just as it has entrapped its characters, and isolate them from the continuum of human experience.

The heart of Ghosts is in a passage on pages 201-2, in which Blue is mulling over his situation—which is that of being forced to do nothing: "They have trapped Blue into doing nothing, into being so inactive as to reduce his life to almost no life at all. He feels like a man who has been condemned to sit in a room and go on reading a book for the rest of his life" (NYT 201-2). This is what he has become: he is "only half-alive at best, seeing the world only through words, living only through the lives of others" (NYT 202). Like the inactive reader of a conventionally structured novel, Blue no longer has any experiences that are truly his own; all that happens to him is a secondary reflection of Black's actions. Black has put him into a box, whose role here as a manipulator of people in an artificial environment of his making is closely akin to that of an author.

But Blue, unlike conventional characters, knows that he is in a box—and he doesn't like it:

There is no story, no plot, no action—nothing but a man sitting alone in a room and writing a book. That's all there is, Blue realizes, and he no longer wants any part of it. But how to get out? How to get out of the room that is the book that will go on being written for as long as he stays in the room? (NYT 202)

This truly is an accurate description of the world as seen by an inactive reader who immerses him- or herself in the conventions of novels: there is no story, no plot, no action, because there is no real world of experience left for this type of reader to make the book into an active force that charges the imagination, which enhances both the book and the individual reader's life.

In the end, Blue decides that the only way out of his dilemma is through a confrontation with his captor, who can be seen as either Black/White or as Auster himself. Typically, however, Auster confuses the author's identity by inserting an unknown authorial voice at the end of the text, the voice of an innocent bystander who somehow stumbled across this story like the unnamed narrator at the end of City of Glass. We do find out from this narrator, however, that following a violent confrontation with the man across the street wherein Blue beats him up and steals his writings (further evidence that Blue is somehow assuming authorial control), that Blue, like Quinn, has escaped into his own world of creation where Auster's text cannot control him. The story again is over because Blue has escaped from the confines of the book. He is outside of the artificial construction that Auster (or Black or whoever) built around him, and is now free to live his own life, free to experience things for himself (as opposed to the vicarious existence of a character); he is free to write his own story.

As we have seen, Ghosts deals with many of the same themes and questions about the relationship between the writer, the characters, and the audience. This "parable about reading" more overtly sets up a situation in which a character realizes that he is just a pawn in someone else's game, and who, after this realization, decides to escape from the text and forge his own way. The Locked Room, whose very title describes this theme, is the third book in the series, and the one most overly about authors and their characters. Like its predecessors, this book explores the relationship between an author, his characters, and the audience using the detective's search for a solution as a metaphor for the search for self and identity, in this case using the biographer's search for his subject.

On one level, this is the story of two childhood friends who are later "reunited": Fanshawe, the dominant person in the relationship, has suddenly disappeared and left his wife with a pile of manuscripts and instructions to give them to the unnamed narrator of the book, a friend that he has not seen for many years. These two friends, from very early on in the novel, are set up as twins, Doppelgangers who are reflections of each other. Like Quinn and "Auster" in City of Glass and Blue and Black in Ghosts, they are two mirrors facing each other that each show the other the possibilities of what might have been. The two spend their whole childhood together, and they look and act so much alike that both their mothers and people that they encounter later in life mistake them for one another. And both go into a career involving words: the narrator becomes critic, and Fanshawe becomes a writer.

After Fanshawe's mysterious disappearance (much like Wakefield's disappearance in the Hawthorne short story of the same name—which, not coincidentally, is mentioned in Ghosts in a conversation between Blue and Black), his wife Sophie contacts the narrator and tells him of Fanshawe's wishes that the unnamed narrator receive all his manuscripts. The narrator agrees to meet with her and review the work to see if it is publishable. This initial contact leads to success in the literary world for the narrator; he publishes Fanshawe's fiction, the works receive critical accolades and even some measure of popular success, and the narrator is credited with discovering a new genius. The relationship between the narrator and Sophie, arranged by Fanshawe, also leads to marriage, so that through Fanshawe's disappearance, the narrator has been given a new life. He now has a wife, an adopted child, and a literary reputation, all as a result of Fanshawe's desire that the narrator take care of his (Fanshawe's) literary affairs in case of his disappearance.

Odd as all these events might seem, there is nothing really chilling about them; other than Fanshawe's strange disappearance and presumed death, it is nothing but an odd series of coincidences. But it soon turns out to be much more than this: shortly after the success of Fanshawe's works, the narrator receives a letter from Fanshawe thanking the narrator for his help, but wishing for him to go on thinking of Fanshawe as dead, nonexistent. This is the first inkling that the narrator has that the events of the past few months of his life have in some way been orchestrated by Fanshawe. Aside from the success of the books, Fanshawe seems to have known that his friend would end up taking care of his wife and child. The narrator literally takes Fanshawe's place while Fanshawe proceeds with whatever new life he is leading: "[I (Fanshawe) wanted] to thank you for what you have done. I knew that you were the person to ask, but things have turned out even better than I thought they would....Sophie and the child will be taken care of, and because of that I can live with a clear conscience" (NYT 280).

This letter is the beginning of a long and painful realization on the narrator's part that he is being controlled by Fanshawe. He has become a character in a work of fiction by Fanshawe; actions that previously seemed acts of free choice or of the will become, in light of Fanshawe's letter, scripted and planned by Fanshawe from the start. The more the narrator struggles to free himself from the bonds tied by Fanshawe, the more he realizes that Fanshawe is still one step ahead of him, that Fanshawe was counting on him to make this move or that one, and thereby complete another sentence or paragraph in the enormous work of fiction that Fanshawe has written on the air using the lives of the people around him. The narrator is trapped in a locked room that appears to be as large as the world and to include all possibilities within it, but which in reality is so tiny that he is constrained no matter what he does. He has almost no chance to escape, because he cannot even define the boundaries that make up his prison.

The narrator realizes what he needs to do: despite his happiness with Sophie and the child, and with the turn of events in his life in general, he knows that he must reclaim his life, and make it his own again, so that his love for Sophie is his love, not a plot device designed by Fanshawe. The narrator decides to use a biography of Fanshawe's life as a pretext to discover Fanshawe's current whereabouts. Though at first he really wants to write a book about Fanshawe's life, he soon realizes that the book would not be a true biography, but instead "a work of fiction. Even though it was based on facts, it could tell nothing but lies" (NYT 291), primarily because Fanshawe is not yet dead. m e most important element of the story—that Fanshawe orchestrated his own disappearance—is the only one that cannot be told, and this makes any of the possible truths that might be revealed about his life and works into falsehoods.

The narrator's attempt to write a biography underlines several of the insistent themes that run throughout the trilogy. The narrator's search for the facts that will lead him to his friend is akin to the detective's search for clues that will lead him to the missing body. The biography also deals with the relationship between an author and his characters, since, to the biographer, the life of the subject is a book, a series of incidents that together form some sort of cohesive whole. But the narrator realizes (especially after Sophie suggests that he make the book into something more than a biography, that he make it as much a story about the narrator and his relationship with Fanshawe as it is about Fanshawe himself) that, through his many decisions to omit this fact or include that one, he is creating a work of fiction about his friend's life, since "every life is inexplicable....No matter how many facts are told, no matter how many details are given, the essential thing resists telling" (NYT 291). In writing the biography, the narrator realizes that he will be crafting Fanshawe's life as much as Fanshawe himself did—especially in this case, since there is as yet no end to the story. Fanshawe is still alive, and he is still adding to the plot.

The deeper the narrator gets into research for the biography, the more he realizes that he is simply becoming more entangled in the net that Fanshawe has caught him in; his whole life is but a shadow of Fanshawe's. He sleeps with Fanshawe's wife, raises his child, visits the places that Fanshawe has gone, and talks to the people that Fanshawe knew. He is a ghost, doomed to wander the locked room that is Fanshawe's past. In fact, the narrator's initial impetus to write the biography came from wanting to refute rumors that were going around that there never was a Fanshawe, that the narrator himself was the author of the books, and that he made Fanshawe up as a gimmick to sell more books. The narrator's life has become so entwined with Fanshawe's that he no longer has a life that is truly his own; he is now nothing more than a character in one of Fanshawe's creations.

The narrator decides that he must end the whole thing by finding Fanshawe and confronting him, whatever the consequences. The deeper that the narrator gets into the biography, the more he realizes that he is still doing exactly what Fanshawe has expected him to do. Despite Fanshawe's threats to kill the narrator should he try to discover his whereabouts, Fanshawe in fact wants the narrator to find him and murder him. It is when the narrator comes to this realization that he truly begins his journey to reclaim himself. To escape from Fanshawe's control, the narrator must do something that Fanshawe does not expect—he must, in fact, defy his creator: "Killing Fanshawe would mean nothing. The point was to find him alive—and then to walk away from him alive" (NYT 318). The whole point of Fanshawe's creation has been to replace himself with the narrator and then to have the narrator confirm that replacement by eliminating the original. It is significant that Fanshawe's name comes from the title of Hawthorne's first novel, a closely autobiographical work which, soon after publishing, Hawthorne tried to reclaim and destroy all existing copies. Fanshawe's name thus refers to a historical act of literary self-elimination. But the narrator, once he becomes conscious that he is a character in Fanshawe's artifice of self-annihilation, can take control of his life again by refusing to complete the structure that Fanshawe has crafted around him. Like Quinn and Blue, who both overcame their manipulators and escaped from the locked room, the frame of fiction that surrounds them, the narrator can only free himself by exposing the artifice for what it is and thereby leaving it unfulfilled.

This internal struggle to free himself from Fanshawe's control, which Sophie cannot understand because she does not know that Fanshawe is still alive, begins to cause problems in their relationship. The narrator decides to go to France, both to sort things out with himself so that they no longer interfere with his relationship with Sophie, and to continue his search for Fanshawe by visiting the people and places that Fanshawe had known there. But the farther he goes, the more he realizes that not only is he no closer to understanding Fanshawe, but that he is still following in Fanshawe's footsteps, a shadow following a ghost. Just as the authors of City of Glass and Ghosts remained hidden from Quinn and Blue (and, to some extent, even to the readers), Fanshawe remains hidden from the eyes of the narrator, despite the wealth of information, of "facts," that the narrator has about his life.

The narrator reclaims his identity, finally, by reclaiming his creative power. At the same moment that he comes closest to a severe mental breakdown and even death, the narrator rediscovers his power as a creator, as an author. He has reached the point of madness, frustrated with how to overcome Fanshawe, when he finds himself in a bar in Paris and decides to name the Tahitian girl there Fayaway, a character from Melville's Typee. Then an American walks into the bar, and on a whim the narrator decides that the man must be Fanshawe: "I exulted in the sheer falsity of my assertion, celebrating the new power that I had just bestowed upon myself. I was the sublime alchemist who could change the world at will. This man was Fanshawe because I said he was Fanshawe, and that was all there was to it" (NYT 348). It doesn't matter who the man is (although, ironically, he calls himself Peter Stillman), whether he is Fanshawe or not; what matters is that the narrator has started to realize his own potential as an artist, a master of words who can change the world into a place that is wholly his creation. Not only is this the beginning of the narrator's break from Fanshawe's power, it is the point where he starts to realize that same power within himself.

After chasing the American and getting beaten nearly to death by him, the narrator is reborn. He chose a random person to call Fanshawe, and then grappled with that image of his friend to the death. Just as Jacob, after wrestling with the angel, is given a new name and a new identity, so is the narrator here reborn into a new life. Once the narrator realizes that he is going to recover from his wounds, that he has faced his enemy and survived, then he is truly freed from the power that Fanshawe had over him. His creator is not dead, but he no longer has any power over his creation. The narrator has escaped from the locked room at last.

Still, the story is not quite over. The narrator returns to Sophie and live happily for three more years without Fanshawe's manipulations hanging over him. Sophie and the narrator even take the money from the book sales and put it into a trust fund for the children, as a symbol that their relationship is in no way dependent on Fanshawe, monetarily or otherwise. He is now wholly absent from their lives. Until one day another letter arrives in the mail, requesting that the narrator come to a house in Boston on April 1. It reads: "This is where it ends, I promise" (NYT 356). The narrator has been waiting for this moment, knowing of its inevitability, knowing that Fanshawe would make one last attempt to control his life:

rather than delude myself with the thought that I could ever get rid of Fanshawe, I tried to prepare myself for it, tried to make myself ready for anything. It is the power of this anything, I believe, that has made the story so difficult to tell. For when anything can happen—that is the precise moment when words begin to fail. To the degree that Fanshawe became inevitable, that was the degree to which he was no longer there. I learned to accept this. I learned to live with him in the same way that I learned to live with the thought of my own death. Fanshawe himself was not death—but he was like death, and he functioned as a trope for death inside me. If not for my breakdown in Paris, I never would have understood this. I did not die there, but I came close, and there was a moment, perhaps there were several moments, when I tasted death, when I saw myself dead. (NYT 355-6)

In other words, the experience in Paris reminded the narrator that fate and chance, the unseen manipulators of everyone's lives, would always be lurking, but that it is still within our power to exercise free will. Just as the narrator has taken back control of his life despite the continued existence of Fanshawe, so can the rest of us become more aware of our creative powers over our own lives despite the existence of fate and circumstance.

It is precisely this realization, the realization that Fanshawe will reappear, that allows the narrator to break free from his power. He has learned to accept his own mortality, which, rather than tainting him with a sense of futility and hopelessness, instead leaves him free to pursue his life in spite of the reality of death, just as he is now free to create his own narrative after almost being killed by participating in Fanshawe's. The narrator has freed himself by destroying the plot and wrecking the structure of the book that Fanshawe made of his life. No longer confined by Fanshawe's machinations, the narrator is free to write his own story in the empty space left by Fanshawe's absence.

The narrator goes to Boston, not knowing what to expect, but knowing that he must come away from the encounter completely free of Fanshawe's influence. Even in his short note, Fanshawe is still attempting to control the situation by insisting that this will be the end of the story. Fanshawe is still trying to play the part of the author, manipulating his chosen characters into performing the actions necessary for the completion of the plot.

Once he arrives, the narrator is even more sure of Fanshawe's desire for control. Fanshawe will not let the narrator come inside the locked room where he is hiding—Fanshawe insists that they only speak to each other through the locked door. Like some kind of divine creator forbidding the use of his name, Fanshawe will not even let the narrator call him by name. Here again Fanshawe is putting himself in a creator/creation archetype, with himself in the role of the ultimate creator. The narrator is even thwarted in his plan to find Fanshawe and then leave him alive: as if he had already known what the narrator's plans were, Fanshawe has poisoned himself. He is going to die despite the narrator's desire to leave him living.

In the end, all that transpires is that the narrator is given a red notebook, a riddling connection to the red notebook that Quinn left behind in his locked room in City of Glass and that Blue, in Ghosts, wrote his observations in. Despite the narrator's pleas to continue the conversation with Fanshawe, knowing that if it ends now it ends on Fanshawe's terms i.e., Fanshawe still has the control—the narrator will be left with nothing but the notebook, in which is written an attempt to explain to the narrator the reasons for Fanshawe's actions over the last six years.

Reading the text while waiting for his train back to New York, the narrator almost submits to Fanshawe's will again through the power of the words in the notebook:

All the words were familiar to me, and yet they seemed to have been put together strangely, as though their final purpose was to cancel each other out. I can think of no other way to express it. Each sentence erased the sentence before it, each paragraph made the next paragraph impossible....It is as if Fanshawe knew his final work had to subvert every expectation I had for it. (NYT 370)

Fanshawe is still eluding the narrator; even the explanation that he has left behind is really no explanation at all, but instead a self-consuming artifact which disguises its author and leaves the reader even more confused than when he began. It swallows itself, and leaves the narrator with nothing to remember but the space that it once seemed to occupy.

However, the narrator still manages to free himself from this last attempt by Fanshawe to control him. After he reads this book that disappears back into itself as fast as one can read it, the narrator impulsively tears out the pages one by one and throws them away, until there is nothing left of the book, mentally or physically. There remains no more trace of Fanshawe, and the story is now ended on the narrator's terms.

The narrator's reassertion of control becomes even more evident when we examine the structure of The Locked Room. Unlike the other two books of the trilogy, this book is told in first person. We know who the narrator is—not his name, but much else about him. This book, I believe, is his answer to the question of a biography on Fanshawe, and its purpose is twofold. First, he has followed Sophie's suggestion, and made this book as much about himself as it is about Fanshawe. Second, it is the completion of his relationship with Fanshawe—he has turned the tables and taken control by creating a fiction about the fiction that Fanshawe created. Now the narrator is the creator and Fanshawe is the character. It is now the narrator who is able to decide where things end and where they begin, and it is Fanshawe who is now trapped inside someone else's fiction. Whether or not Fanshawe is dead, whether or not any event in this work of fiction (as the narrator admits that it is, since all biographies are works of fiction) is factually verifiable or not is beside the point. The important thing is that the narrator has escaped from Fanshawe's universe and is now able to create a world of his own. Even if his life is still framed within some sort of artifice—as is everyone's life—at least now it is an artifice of his own making. He has overthrown the tyranny of the artifice of fiction, and now uses it instead as a tool for greater creativity and personal freedom.

I believe that these moments, when the characters realize who and what they are, and take action to change their condition by escaping from the locked room of the text, are the most essential moments of the trilogy. For they remind the readers that they, too, have a part to play in creating the book. Works of fiction, which are supposed to make the reader use his or her imagination to create the scenes and people in the book just as much as the author creates them in writing them, have all too often become locked rooms where the reader has been trained to expect certain highly stylized renditions of reality; one action should, in a conventional novel, produce another, very specific type of reaction. For example, the reader of the detective novel expects a murder, which disrupts the social order, to be solved by the end of the story by the detective, the paternalistic God-figure who has the power to penetrate the mystery surrounding the crime and reestablish the social order. In the same way, the author of the conventional novel creates a reality that is structurally sound, with no loose ends, in order to demonstrate "the superiority of his or her writing over the novel reader's reading skills" (Huhn 464).

In these cases, the text becomes more of a linguistic contest between the reader and the writer in which it is assumed that the writer will always have control and always win, so that the reader is no longer reading the book in order to discover new worlds, but instead to be trapped within the locked room that the author has established according to the conventions. Books then are no longer attempts on the author's part to communicate with his or her readers, but instead contrived structures that attempt nothing more than to fulfill the readers' expectations while remaining interesting and surprising. Auster, however, playfully uses many of the conventions of the detective genre in order to undermine the traditional structure of the novel and the traditional roles of the author, the characters, and the readers. He reminds us that books, even ones written in highly contrived and stylized modes (such as detective novels), are so much more than locked rooms of form and genre. For both their characters and their readers, they can open worlds of imagination and new experiences that are created by the reader him- or herself—if only the reader will take the time to escape from the locked room.

In other words, if we, like the characters in Auster's books, are conscious of the ways in which we are being manipulated, then we too can take control of the text and make it our own. The book then will not simply be a novel by Paul Auster, but also a text in which our emotions, thoughts, and histories are inscribed. Therefore it will mean a great deal more to us, as well as have a great deal more to teach us, because it will teach us about ourselves. A text is only a locked room or a hall of mirrors to the passive reader; the tyranny of artifice has no other power than that which the reader grants it. To actively questioning readers, a text becomes a reflecting pool that shows us the contours of our souls by revealing another view of the world.

 

 

Works Cited

Auster, Paul. "An Interview with Paul Auster." By Larry McCaffrey and Sinda Gregory. Mississippi Review 20 (1991): 49-62.

---. Moon Palace. New York: Penguin Books, 1989.

---. The New York Trilogy. New York: Penguin Books, 1990.

---. Personal interview. 21 February 1993. (See Appendix)

Huhn, Peter. "The Detective as Reader: Narrativity and Reading Concepts in Detective Fiction." Modern Fiction Studies 33 (1987): 451-466.

Panek, LeRoy Lad. "The Hard-Boiled Story." An Introduction to the Detective Story. Bowling Green: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1987. 144-168.

Russell, Alison. "Deconstructing The New York Trilogy: Paul Auster's Anti-Detective Fiction." Critique 31 (1990): 71-84.

 

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