“What he liked about these books was there was nothing wasted, no sentence, no word that is is not significant. And even if it is not significant, it has the potential to be so – which amounts to the same thing….Even the slightest, most trivial thing can bear a connection to the outcome of the story, nothing must be overlooked.” (8, Auster)
Paul Auster’s City of Glass sets a clearly defined trap for the reader, and many still fall for it past it’s final pages. The book is riddled with a seemingly endless stream of contradictions and connections that can be endlessly analysed, when the contradiction of actual significance is that the book itself is one; it contradicts the stereotypical detective novel. Personally, for much of the story I was wrapped in the evens surrounding the Stillmans, to ‘solve’ the crime, to sift through Quinn’s mind and discern for myself what is ‘true’. I found myself looking back on trivial details, making my own connections from the murky consciousness of Quinn. Some were subtle, like the way that Petter Stillman spoke with phrases admist his ramblings such as “you bet your bottom dollar” (19, Auster) and later how Quinn uses this same phrase on page 38 when speaking to the counterman. This continues when Quinn later uses the phrase “to beat around the bush” (Auster, 79) when speaking to Petter Stillman (Sr) as Quinn impersonates Henry Dark. Some more obvious, like the ending of Chapter 4 (pg 35) where Quinn reflects that “his son’s name had also been Peter”. Or the seeing of two identical Peter Stillmans (Sr) who is is supposed to track going in opposite ways. Ultimately, no matter what angle one looks at it there are no answers to be found surrounding the events of the novel beyond Quinn himself (from what I can see, and I would like to be proven otherwise!).
As a reader of this novel, it is a misstep to observe and analyse these kinds of intentional labellings and wordings in an attempt to solve a mystery, whether it be the Stillmans or otherwise, unless it is directly related to the psyche of Quinn. I believe that Peter Stillman (here referring to jr) is a projection of Quinns subconscious, and that there is no discernible way to find the truth of what happened to the Stillmans because there is not enough information from Quinns readable conciousness, and because there is no need to as they did not ever physically exist. From what I think happened throughout the story is that there is a man named Daniel Quinn, who creates the Stillmans out of necessity to drive his transformation from what he has become (a self-loathed hermit). The contradictions and connections being a reminder of how what is happening (the mystery and the events) are a true impossibility, but are significant in understanding Quinn’s transformation. He uses the case as an excuse to follow around an old man who does not exist. He is the one who is redefining his own language, and finding purpose. Until he loses contact with the Stillmans due to a busy signal, and instead of simply knocking on the door he isolates himself to watching over the building to ‘protect’ Peter jr. Once he has run out of money, he takes his isolation to the next step, which is becoming his subconcious projection, Peter Stillman jr, by laying in a room naked only eating, sleeping, and writing, until there is nothing left to write, and Daniel Quinn has dissolved into a piece of literature and his transformation is complete. The use of creating names and people being an accepted notion by Peter Stillman Sr (who created Henry Dark) which reflects a piece of Quinns subconscious.
While there is not much detail, I believe it is fair to conclude (against the book’s suggestion that it “would be foolish to even hazard a guess” (132, Auster) ) that Quinn leaves the room, travels, and eventually returns from Africa and contacts the only person he knows in the city, Paul Auster (character), and the only person who he considers a friend. Paul is shocked and “feels guilty about Quinn” and they go to the apartment room to find what is left of Quinn (the book). After flipping through the book and realizing what had happened after their last talk on the phone, Quinn reflects that “If our friendship has ended, he has only himself to blame”. My reading of this is that if upon realizing the extent of Quinns self-induced circumstances that it might impede a future friendship, but to Quinn, what is in the book is an entirely different person. I could ramble on and on about the novel, but that is the basis of my interpretation.
While there are no prompt questions to this post, I am interested in what you have to say about this theory, and Im sure that it is easy to provoke discussion on a text such as this.
If there are flaws in this analysis please point them out!
**Note: I have realized that I have a different copy of the text, so the page numbers likely do not coordinate with yours if you are looking to read further around the quotes.