You pick up Paul Auster’s Winter Journal (McClelland & Stewart) because you’re ready to give Auster another shot (you’ve found his recent work uneven, but his New York Trilogy—a dazzling postmodernist take on the detective novel genre—is still high on your list of all-time greats); against all reason you think that you might be in the mood for an introspective memoir about aging.
You note that Auster began Winter Journal exactly one month before his sixty-fourth birthday, an age when many seem to become preoccupied with thoughts that “time is running out, after all.” At first, Auster’s use of the second person throughout Winter Journal feels awkward and strained: you can’t think of anyone who uses the second person in their journal; but eventually you get used to this stylistic quirk. You like the fact that Auster does not order events chronologically but interleaves incidents from different periods of his life. Memories from his boyhood (“you are five years old, crouched over an anthill in the backyard”) rub shoulders on the page with events from later years (“in that respect this evening is no different from any other evening of your marriage, since the two of you have always talked, that is what defines you somehow, and for all these years you have been living inside the long, uninterrupted conversation that started the day you met”); it seems to you that this is exactly the way that memory works, time tumbled by our rummaging.
Winter Journal ends with a memento mori, a dark foreshadowing of the inevitable end: “You are sixty-four years old. Outside the air is grey, almost white, with no sun visible. You ask yourself: how many mornings are left? A door has closed, another door has opened. You have entered the winter of your life.”
You decide that it is time for a mug of hot tea.