4321
by Paul Auster
Faber & Faber

Clocking in at almost 900 pages, 4321 is long by anyone’s standards, and Paul Auster’s in particular: his best writing tends towards terse, post-Beckettian miniature. It also narrates one life in four separate ways. The countdown is the same: the long-awaited birth, in 1947 New Jersey, of Archie Ferguson to Rose and Stanley, whose forebears arrived in New York (so family legend has it) on January 1, 1900. Auster’s constantly splitting narratives view Archie’s existence as comprising similar uncertainty. This coming-of-age tale keeps on coming, as if Auster and Archie are following the existential directive: if at first you don’t succeed (or even if you do, for that matter), try, try and try again. Depending on which angles are created in this game of cosmic snooker, Archie falls in love with a girl or a boy, lives in France or Manhattan, triumphs or not. Certain details both real and invented recur (Vietnam, moon landings, race riots), but are changed and charged by Archie’s altered trajectory. It’s trying, but terrific.