BOOK REVIEW: Paul Auster's '4 3 2 1' Has Flashes of Brilliance But Doesn't Transcend Its Genre

One of the most acclaimed episodes of the television show Community (2009-2015 NBC; 2015 Yahoo Screen), “Remedial Chaos Theory,” uses the quirky concept of the “choose your own adventure” narrative and exemplifies one of the best examples in popular media of constructing a story around diverging yet parallel plotlines. The roll of a die during a party determines which of the seven characters has to leave the room to pick up the recently-delivered pizza; in turn, the episode demonstrates how exactly the rest of evening plays out seven different times, depending on which of the seven friends is chosen at random to get the pizza. The combination of element of chance and watching how the group interacts with one another in seven different ways is key to making each timeline distinct and engaging. Most importantly, the decision made by the group to determine who has to leave by rolling the die is the most important factor leading to the split of timelines, rather than the actual randomness generated by the die, because it demonstrates that what happens in our lives, and the significance of these events, is not only due to chance, but to the choices we make, and how these choices ultimately tell us who we are as people. 
(http://us.macmillan.com/4321/paulauster/9781627794466/)
I bring up this episode of Community because I couldn’t get it out of my mind while reading Paul Auster’s newest novel 4 3 2 1, which tells the story of Archie Ferguson, a young Jewish American growing up during the 1950s and 1960s, four different ways, beginning with his birth in Newark, New Jersey in 1947. Four timelines are interwoven through the book’s almost nine hundred pages, each delving into Ferguson’s (as he is referred to) experiences growing up in four different ways, rotating through stages detailing various phases of maturation. Small differences at the beginning of his lives, such as the relationship between his parents, his familial affairs, his friendships, and his interests in hobbies soon expand and balloon into vastly different sagas, affecting where he lives, where he goes to school, the kind of career he pursues, and the people with whom he falls in love. Yet Ferguson himself remains generally constant across his four lives, even though not all of them progress equally far: he loves sports and writing, though which sports and what kind of writing diverge across timelines; he is passionate about ideals of goodness, equality, and justice during the turbulent political situations that occur over his lives; and his lives are always, always enhanced by the presence of a girl named Amy Schneiderman: sometimes she is a friend, sometimes a lover, sometimes family, but she is one of the eternal elements that holds true across all four timelines, regardless of how they end...

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Comments

  1. interesting. i may read it just to experience the remedial chaos theory in a book...good review...

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  2. the review is not inelegant and does not need another pass by the editor. I don't care what that guy says

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