Formerly a hack with vision, Paul Auster continues to mature as a writer while his narrative gimmicks remain as innovative as ever. As a result, the best American novel in recent memory revolves around the life and times of an aging canine named Mr. Bones.
Timbuktu begins as troubled vagabond-poet Willy G. Christmas goes to Baltimore to tie up loose ends before dying. Lifelong companion Mr. Bones accompanies his master, observing Willy's tragicomic antics with dogged empathy. “Not only was [Willy] an incipient lush, and not only was he a bred-in-the-bone liar with a strong paranoiac bent, he was too damn funny for his own good.”
Passing out of Baltimore, Mr. Bones trots through this vivid fable of American life, ending with a storybook family cut from a cozy suburban template. The way in which Mr. Bones realizes he's a pawn in a game of dying love between a dissatisfied wife and her flatly material husband typifies Auster's sly brilliance.
Witty insights arise when Bones succumbs to the 'burbs creature comforts: “He had landed in the America of two-car garages, home-improvement loans, and neo-Renaissance shopping malls, and the fact was that he had no objections. . . once you got used to the mechanics of the system, it no longer seemed important that you were tethered to a wire all day. By the time you had been there for two and a half months, you even stopped caring that your name was Sparky.”
Auster is wise to play the dog card with a straight literary face. His characters are distinct, complex, and unforgettable - revealing themselves mainly through monologues to mute Mr. Bones. Timbuktu's conclusion performs a narrative somersault, leaving behind a poignant tale whose emotional impact is undiminished from the fact that it's a dog who brings the denouement.
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