A skillfully written memoir can be as moving as any novel, but it can be hard to break away from the humdrum verse-chorus-verse of writing a coming-of-age trajectory. Not to be discouraged, Auster published Winter Journal in 2012, an account of his 63 years of existence explored through the prism of physical being – a record of scrapes, residences, romantic encounters and familial losses, challenging the literary status quo through his use of non-linear narrative and themes contemplating his descent into old age.
Report From the Interior is his companion piece to Winter Journal, and examines the ideas most formative in his intellect and work – another unconventional offering to the world of autobiography. This time the meditations focus on childhood heroes, academic grapplings, political turmoil, and his own foray into literature.
Report From the Interior is presented in four chapters in the second person. The prose is disjointed – memories can be triggered by a teacup or movie poster, world events or secret alphabets – all information is fair game in the molding of a young mind, and it’s fascinating to see the touchstones of memory fragment and intersect. Auster begins with a vast intake of influences and memories, and like a train gathering speed, feeds on more substantial kinds of fuel as we progress through the pages. This book is a bit like opening your junk drawer, you could find anything from silver dollars to an endless supply of rubber bands and ketchup packets – but it’s damn riveting stuff. He spends 40 pages recounting the “cinematic earthquake” of “I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang”, and shifts to receiving a package from his former wife, writer Lydia Davis – a photocopy of every letter he had written her during their time together. The final chapter is a photo album in which the author presents a gallery of those who have made an impression upon him – and not a single image of himself.
“Your circumstances at the time were as follows: Midcentury America; mother and father; tricycles, bicycles, and wagons; radios and black-and-white televisions; standard-shift cars; two small apartments and a house in the suburbs; fragile health early on, then normal boyhood strength; public school; a family from the striving middle class; a town of fifteen thousand populated by Protestants, Catholics, and Jews, all white except for a smattering of black people, but no Buddhists, Hindus or Muslims; a little sister and eight first cousins; comic books; Rootie Kazootie and Pinky Lee; “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus”; Campbell’s Soup, Wonder bread, and canned peas; souped-up cars (hot rods) and cigarettes for twenty-three cents a pack; a little world inside the big world, which was the entire world for you back then, since the big world was not yet visible.”
Those open to exploring alternative forms of storytelling and memoir.
This book will either leave you feeling challenged and inspired, or stuck at a family gathering where Great Uncle Paul has broken out the slide projector to relive his salad days at Columbia again. Take a chance, and let Auster’s interior worlds reflect your own.