Winter Journal by Paul Auster; Henry Holt, 230 pages ($26).
It's hard to know exactly how one would quantify such a thing but it's likely that serious readers know more about the marriage of Paul Auster and Siri Hustvedt than we do about any other literary marriage in current America (not even Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman). Between Auster and Hustvedt, the amount of first-person conjugal prose about themselves and their feelings about each other surpasses everything one might have expected and approaches areas one can't help feeling are unprecedented. (One didn't, after all, expect such emotional outlay from Paul and Jane Bowles or H.G. Welles and Rebecca West; pre-Oprah era, that.)
They are superb writers, nevertheless. Auster, especially, is very much a master of first-person memoir. His newest impressionist narrative of his life and feelings begins with a catalog of physical scars and how he got them, from merrily slicing his cheek while sliding on a store's waxed floor to ashamedly getting his family into a car accident because he was rushing home while driving in a major need to urinate.
One doesn't read Auster if quotidian awareness and minute physical details are off-putting. This is the school-of-style-and-candor, the quasi-religion that writing well eliminates any and all possibilities of trivialization.
By the time his narrative consideration of his life is over as he nears the middle of his seventh decade, he has dealt with the death of his mother and, yes, his courtship of his wife (on meeting her: "beatiful, yes, without question sublimely beautiful, a lean, six-foot blonde with long magnificent legs and the tiny wrists of a four-year old, the biggest little person you have ever seen, or perhaps the littlest big person" – a description too well wrought to be as fulsome or unseemly as it might have been). Along with it comes every subject from Campbell soup to pubic lice to Holocaust hallucinations.
Auster's "The Invention of Solitude" followed on the death of his father. Here, after the death of his mother, he alternates between such different late-life perceptions as he once translated from Joseph Joubert: "the end of life is bitter" and "one must die lovable (if one can)."– Jeff Simon