Bawer is the author of While Europe Slept, Surrender,
and The Victims' Revolution. His novel The Alhambra
was published in 2017.
am on record as being an admirer of the fiction of Paul Auster,
author of such novels as The Book of Illusions and
Man in the Dark. In 1989, I gave his novel Moon
Palace a rave review in the New Criterion; in
1990, I enthused over The Music
of Chance in the Wall Street Journal; and in
1992, again in the New Criterion, I praised Leviathan.
Auster, I repeatedly argued, was one of the most impressive
living American novelists—a brilliantly original talent.
It’s been a while since those reviews, but my admiration
for Auster’s work hasn’t faded.
when I saw his name in a newspaper headline the other day,
I was quick to click on the story. And what a story it was:
Daniel Auster, the novelist’s 44-year-old son by his
first wife, the writer Lydia Davis, had just been charged
with manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide in the
death, last November, of his 10-month-old daughter, Ruby.
to a Brooklyn prosecutor, the baby had ingested enough heroin
and fentanyl to “render an adult unconscious”;
her father, who’d been taking care of her in their Park
Slope home while the baby’s mother was at work, had
been doing heroin earlier in the day, and kept “glassine
packets of heroin” in his bathroom. When contacted by
the New York Post, Paul Auster had no comment.
put, this terrible story renewed my interest in Auster, and
I went online to catch up with him. I found a 2016 interview
with the BBC, whose reporter met him at his home on “a
gentrified street in Brooklyn” which had “immaculately
placed sitting room furniture.” Auster, the reporter
noted, had “called right-wing Republicans ‘jihadists’”
and complained that Barack Obama was too moderate. Now, with
the 2016 election imminent, Auster testified that “most
people I know are on the verge of a nervous breakdown.”
Trump, of course. “When Trump says make America great
again,” Auster declared, “he means Make America
White Again.” Asked if Trump’s voters were racist,
Auster said yes. Ten years ago, Auster lamented, there had
been 60 “white supremacist” groups. “Now
there are 900.” Nine hundred? Where did he get that
number? “Trump has enabled them.” Oh, and Trump
was also anti-Semitic: “there are times when Trump does
sound like Hitler. The ‘International Banking Conspiracy’
is just a code word for Jews. It’s very scary . . .
I am scared out of my wits.”
to say, there was nothing surprising about these accusations.
I’d seen them a thousand times. They were the baseless,
unhinged left-wing talking points of the day, and parroting
them had quickly solidified into an obligatory ritual for
any member of the cultural elite who wanted to stay in the
cultural elite. Still, it was depressing to see Auster playing
the game. Was he reciting this leftist mantra out of foolishness
all, Auster, who at the time was pushing 70, had lived in
the New York area most of his life—and Trump had long
been a New York fixture. He was constantly in the media. He’d
won awards from Jewish and black groups. He had countless
celebrity friends, and was a particular favourite of rappers.
His daughter married a Jew and gave him Jewish grandchildren.
Did Auster seriously believe that Trump had become a racist
and anti-Semite of the first water? If so, at what point had
he undergone that extraordinary metamorphosis?
what about Auster’s claim that half the people in America
were ideologically indistinguishable from Nazis and KKK members?
Did Auster, who is Jewish, really believe that? If so, how
could he bring himself to step outside his home, let alone
fly to red-state cities to promote his books?
the day of Trump’s inauguration, the Guardian
published an interview with him. It was more of the same:
“Trump’s election is appalling. I’ve been
struggling to work out how to live my life in the years ahead.”
Auster also made a point of saying his wife, novelist Siri
Hustvedt, was “an ardent feminist” and that “I
agree with her in all her positions.” How, I wondered
as I read this nonsense, could such a brilliantly original
novelist have such dumb, derivative politics?
March 2017, it was the BBC’s turn again to speak with
Auster. On “BBC Newsnight,” he confessed: “I
feel as if I’m living in a nightmare.” He called
Trump “deranged . . . demented, incompetent, unqualified.”
Asked whether his reaction to Trump was “a class thing,”
Auster admitted it might be, in part. But then he deflected,
charging that Trump has a “demonic talent for inciting
crowds” by spouting “gibberish, utter nonsense.”
Trump, he asserted, wants to “dismantle American society.”
Asked if this was “alarmism,” Auster replied:
“You never know what he thinks . . . I don’t think
he even knows what he thinks.”
Trump went on to engineer the Abraham Accords. And move the
U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. And take black unemployment down
to record levels. In fact, he racked up a litany of remarkable
accomplishments. And no, he didn’t dismantle American
society. If not for the pandemic and election chicanery, he’d
have been easily swept back into office. Has Auster ever expressed
regret for having been such a hysterical fool? Has he made
a single public statement in criticism of anything about the
Biden Administration, which is a cause for despair?
On the contrary, he’s kept on singing with the choir.
In a joint Skype or Zoom interview last October, he and Hustvedt
complained about Americans—those right-wing deplorables,
you know—who refused to take vaccines. Dropped down
the memory hole was the fact that Trump had made those vaccines
possible and that Kamala Harris and other Democrats had said
they wouldn’t take any vaccine produced under Trump.
that interview, Auster and Hustvedt sat in their Brooklyn
home, well-dressed, holding forth on literary and political
matters and on the pandemic. They seemed terribly self-important,
greatly impressed with themselves, eager and unembarrassed
to go on at length about their writing processes, the narratives
in their novels, the characters whom they conjure up in their
imaginations and shape stories around.
the day of that interview, a very real person named Ruby would’ve
been about four months old, lying in a crib in an apartment
not far from Paul and Siri’s home, being taken care
of, at least part of the time, by a heroin addict. How often
did Auster see his granddaughter? He had worried endlessly,
he maintained, about Trump. Although he and Siri seemed supremely
serene and happy throughout that Zoom interview, we were supposed
to believe at the same time that he felt he was “living
in a nightmare” because of Trump.
he ever worry about Ruby? Did it occur to him that she was
the one really living in a nightmare?
that matter, how much did he ever worry about Daniel? A quick
Google search turned up these sentences about Daniel in a
2014 New Yorker profile of his mother: “As a teen-ager,
he started going to clubs in New York City and became deeply
involved with drugs. In 1996, when he was eighteen, he was
present in the apartment when a dealer named Andre Melendez
was murdered by Michael Alig, a former club promoter, and
his roommate, Robert Riggs. Auster was given three thousand
dollars of Melendez’s money in exchange for his silence,
and later pleaded guilty to possession of stolen property
and served a five-year probation.”
was Daniel’s father, Paul, during all this?
Trump, note well, has three kids who, by all indications,
have grown into supremely well-adjusted, responsible-minded
adults—plus a fourth who’s in his teens and not
going to clubs or doing drugs. Surely Trump deserves at least
some of the credit for the way his children turned out.
I’m not suggesting that Paul Auster should be blamed
entirely for what happened to his son. Still, one can’t
help wondering: where was he when, as a teenager, Daniel was
“going to clubs in New York City” and becoming
“deeply involved in drugs”? And where has he been
over the past 10 months, when he had to have known that his
baby granddaughter was not far away from him, alone in her
home in Brooklyn with a heroin addict?
that Zoom interview, Paul and Siri held forth righteously
about the rampant “inequities” in America. Auster
expressed pity, as a New Yorker, for the “poor and struggling
and black” people in the city. Hustvedt griped about
the misogyny she faces as a female writer. But even as these
two were shedding crocodile tears for abstract victims of
“inequity” and poverty and feeling sorry for their
own extraordinarily privileged selves, what were they doing—personally,
actively—to protect Auster’s baby granddaughter,
who might not have been “poor and struggling and black”
but who, it’s clear now, was living in what amounted
to a heroin den?
the same interview, Auster and his wife outlined their day-to-day
routine in some detail: their writing schedules, their dinner
together every evening, their nights splayed out on the couch,
watching old movies. There was no mention of the fact that
Auster had a son and granddaughter nearby. Did Auster ever
visit them? Did they visit him?
people, placed in Paul and Siri’s shoes, would’ve
been monitoring developments in Daniel’s household at
least once a day. Why didn’t Auster feel moved to do
so? Or it is possible that it never occurred to him, not even
for a fleeting moment, that Donald Trump might not be the
deadly monster of Hillary’s and CNN’s and the
Democratic Party’s fantasies and that his own son—the
son who hadn’t grown into an upstanding citizen like
Don Jr. or Eric Trump, but into a self-destructive ne’er-do-well—might
in fact pose a deadly threat to his own little granddaughter?
now, does Auster realize that Donald Trump was a better father—and
president —than he, Paul Auster, was a father and grandfather?
does the smug, narcissistic leftist mind just not work that
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