In one of Paul Auster’s almost magically fatalistic novels, The Music of Chance (1990), ‘one thing kept leading to another’ and the protagonist’s destiny was determined by ‘one of those random, accidental encounters’. In Sunset Park, Auster’s wonderfully unpredictable new story of fatal manipulations, life is an apparently uncontrollable phenomenon that just happens to the anti-hero, Miles Heller. A highly literate, decent young American with good intentions, Miles somehow feels compelled to make disastrous decisions, as if he really has no other choices. Everyone else involved in his downward career is similarly afflicted, and yet, for even a humane reader, the whole sorry mess is fascinatingly enjoyable. Auster is sympathetic to his characters but merciless; he describes them and their predicaments with calm implacability.
Miles, the son of the founder and editor of a small New York literary publishing house in decline, is, at the age of twenty-one, a third-year university drop-out with no immediate ambitions. Having accidentally caused his stepbrother’s death and having unintentionally overheard his father and stepmother critically discussing