In my line of work, I have come across stories that are akin to fictions. Since I only hear the story from the person whom I am representing, I have to trust my client’s story even though I know that I am only hearing what my client wants me to know and there are often more than two versions of the same story. It is a matter of who is telling the story and what the story teller’s role is in telling the story and the purpose of the story. Whenever I try to relate a story to someone, as much as I like to stay as accurately to the incident or story according to what I know, sometimes I find myself unwittingly tweak the story and somehow the story takes on a different light. Whenever I retell something that I experience to a friend, a new perspective may present itself and the whole experience is seen slightly differently from a different angle. When an incident happens, everyone who cares to give it a thought will form an opinion of their own. If you ask the bystanders who have witnessed some event that has taken place in their presence, you are likely to get various versions of the same event. If we reflect on our own life, there will be things that we wish we could undo or do it better though given the chance to go back in time, we might just have responded in the same manner. When we know that we cannot change the past, we may obsess incessantly or we will leave it and move on. You cannot ignore nor pretend that it has never happened but you can choose to leave it as you know that it is pointless to agonise about something that you cannot change.
Prior to reading Invisible, I had never read any books by Paul Auster. His writing is elegant and his prose is easy to read. The novel is constructed in four parts and its story is narrated by three different voices, the first voice is in the voice of the protagonist, Adam Walker and the second narration is in the voice of a friend from Columbia and the third is by a woman whom Adam met in his youth when she was a teenager. Both Jim and Adam entered Columbia in 1965 to study literature. After they graduated, they never kept in contact until thirty-eight years later by which time Jim is a successful novelist. In 2007, Jim received a UPS package containing Adam’s unfinished manuscript. Adam is dying and he finds it compelling to write something that taunts him since 1967.
In their youth , Adam was an aspiring poet, and in Jim’s voice,
‘ Of all the young misfits from our little gang at college, Walker was the one who had struck me as the most promising, and I figured it was inevitable that sooner or later I would begin reading about the books he had written or come across something he had published in a magazine —poems or novels, short stories or reviews, perhaps a translation of one of his beloved French poets –but that moment never came, and I could only conclude that the boy who had been destined for a life in the literary world had gone on to concern himself with other matters.”
Adam was born of affluent parents who had a successful business in New Jersey. Since the accidental death of Adam’s younger brother. Andy as a child, his family became dysfunctional. Both he and Gwyn, his older sister are remarkably good looking.
From what Jim remembers, Adam was shy and timid.
‘He was a bit timid, I remember, a trait that seemed odd in a person of such keen intelligence who also happened to be one of the best-looking boys on campus – handsome as a movie star, as a girlfriend of mine once put it. But better to be shy than arrogant, I suppose, better to blend in delicately than to intimidate everyone with your insufferable human perfection. He was something of a loner, then, but amiable and droll whenever he emerged from his cocoon, with a sharp, offbeat sense of humour, and what I especially liked about him was the broad range of his interests, his ability to talk about Cavalcanti, say, or John Donne, and then, with the same acumen and knowledge, turn around and tell you something about baseball that had never occurred to you before.’
The 60 year-old Adam Walker, dying of leukaemia, feels compelled to write as he cannot get over what happened to him in 1967 after he became acquainted with Rudolph Born who was a visiting tutor to Columbia. One evening while Born and Adam took a stroll, they were mugged and Born reacted with a blade to the assailant’s stomach. Adam ran for help but returned to find nothing and he subsequently read that the mugger’s body was found in a nearby park with a dozen wounds. Born threated Adam not to tell about the incident and a week later, Born fled to France. Adam has been unable to expunge his guilt over failing to have Born arrested for murder. In his unfinished manuscripts that he forwards to Jim, apart from telling about his acquaintance with Born and his girlfriends, it contains notes about affairs, incest and a sojourn in Paris.
Human behaviour is complex and often we just have to stop analysing or judging another person’s motivation or actions simply because we do not have access to the other person’s mind nor we know what the other person actually experiences. We have to trust our instincts and do what we feel right at the time, once the moment has passed, it is quite pointless agonizing about what we could or should have done.
In Invisible, Adam is a tortured soul and as his life is ending, he feels compelled to tell the story of his shame. Are Adam’s memories reliable? Did Born actually kill the mugger? Both questions are unresolved. Auster‘s characters are credible and I certainly look forward to reading more of the author’s books in future.