james wood’s pitch-perfect parody of paul auster


Roger Phaedo had not spoken to anyone for ten years. He confined himself to his Brooklyn apartment, obsessively translating and retranslating the same short passage from Rousseau’s “Confessions.” A decade earlier, a mobster named Charlie Dark had attacked Phaedo and his wife. Phaedo was beaten to within an inch of his life; Mary was set on fire, and survived just five days in the I.C.U. By day, Phaedo translated; at night, he worked on a novel about Charlie Dark, who was never convicted. Then Phaedo drank himself senseless with Scotch. He drank to drown his sorrows, to dull his senses, to forget himself. The phone rang, but he never answered it. Sometimes, Holly Steiner, an attractive woman across the hall, would silently enter his bedroom, and expertly rouse him from his stupor. At other times, he made use of the services of Aleesha, a local hooker. Aleesha’s eyes were too hard, too cynical, and they bore the look of someone who had already seen too much. Despite that, Aleesha had an uncanny resemblance to Holly, as if she were Holly’s double. And it was Aleesha who brought Roger Phaedo back from the darkness. One afternoon, wandering naked through Phaedo’s apartment, she came upon two enormous manuscripts, neatly stacked. One was the Rousseau translation, each page covered with almost identical words; the other, the novel about Charlie Dark. She started leafing through the novel. “Charlie Dark!” she exclaimed. “I knew Charlie Dark! He was one tough cookie. That bastard was in the Paul Auster gang. I’d love to read this book, baby, but I’m always too lazy to read long books. Why don’t you read it to me?” And that is how the ten-year silence was broken. Phaedo decided to please Aleesha. He sat down, and started reading the opening paragraph of his novel, the novel you have just read.

—from James Wood, "Shallow Graves: The Novels of Paul Auster." The New Yorker, November 30, 2009.

Read the rest here.

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