Book Review: Man in the Dark
“The weird world rolls on.” – August Brill quoting Rose Hawthorne
There is something about tragic stories that kindle my heart. Yes, happy stories are sweet but nothing reaffirms life better than tragedy. In sorrow and despair lie the most fundamental truths of human life. Forget all the hodgepodge regarding happiness as the answer to life’s questions because the answers lies in the bottomless pit that we consider as tragedy. One can learn more from tragedy and sadness compared to the lessons one can gain from books with a happy vibe and that is why I like tragic stories better.
One such tragedy is Man in the Dark which is about a critic named August Brill who, in his sleepless nights, invents stories in order to fight insomnia. In this story-within-a-story, August Brill invents an alternative America where the Twin Towers never fell, the 2000 election resulted in the secession of different states, and civil war has enveloped the whole of America.
In August Brill’s alternative reality, a man named Owen Brick is forcibly enlisted into the armed forces of the secessionist states and is given the task of killing the man responsible for the war. The reader then discover that the man that Brick is tasked to kill is no other than August Brill himself who created the war in a parallel universe and his death will be the only way to stop it. In essence August Brill created the story about a war and part of that story is his planned death in order to end the fictional (or is it?) war. But Brick’s story is cut short abruptly with his death and the reader is compelled once more to focus on the main story of August Brill’s family and their tragedies.
Brill’s imagination is not only propelled by his desire to be rid of his insomnia but also his desire to forget that his household has been in the shroud of tragedy. Brill’s wife has just died, his sister may have committed suicide, he has just suffered from a car accident, his daughter, Miriam, has been left by her husband, and his granddaughter, Katya, is grieving for her dead boyfriend who has been murdered. They spend their days in a stupor with Miriam immersing herself in work; and August and Katya watching movies all day long.
Much emphasis is placed on objects in the book especially since Katya, being a film major, has pointed out their significance in the films that they watch. It is one point in the novel that objects bear the emotions of their owners and that memories can be extracted from them. The bed may mean the companionship between two people and its empty space that was once filled by another body is now a reminder of loss. Memories and emotion cannot be isolated upon one’s self for they bleed through the heart and into the surroundings rendering the once lifeless objects to be filled with happiness and/or tragedy.
In the end of the novel, the reader will finally have a resolution regarding the very big question of the events surrounding Katya’s boyfriend’s death. We learn that he died working for a contractor in Iraq as he was abducted by terrorists and executed in the most gruesome way for all the world to see. No words can bring justice to how Auster narrated it. It was filled with tension and fear; and at the end you will feel lifeless and without hope.
But do not despair! Auster ends the novel during the sunset and with the characters finding solace in the fact that they have each other in a world that is cruel and unforgiving. This is where I revel in the tragedy that is life reaffirming. Here is a family that has been marred by tragedy and yet they live on with the knowledge that they have each other.
Thus we come full circle with Rose Hawthorne’s quote which was spoken by Brill. Whatever happens, happy or tragic, the weird world rolls on.