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AUSTER’S PARK SLOPE

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Who is the B.P.M.?

Of all the many recognizable denizens of Park Slope who make guest appearances in Paul Auster’s new book, "The Brooklyn Follies," this one character - the "Beautiful Perfect Mother" - will undoubtedly provoke many a spirited debate about her identity.

Everyone knows a Park Slope B.P.M. Indeed, aren’t all the moms in Park Slope B.P.M.s? In naming this character as he did, that is probably Auster’s point. It’s a bit of a wink to his neighbors that will probably go unrecognized by readers outside of Brownstone Brooklyn.

"[She sat] on the front stoop of her building with her two young children, waiting for the yellow bus to arrive and take them to school," writes Auster. "She was remarkably attractive with long black hair and luminous green eyes, but what stirred him most about her was the way she held and touched her children. He had never seen maternal love expressed so eloquently or simply, with more tenderness or outright joy To watch her sitting on the front steps of her house with her arms wrapped around those two small kids was enough to bring a flutter to an old curmudgeon’s heart."

The identity of the B.P.M. is hidden for several pages of "The Brooklyn Follies," yet once it is revealed, it becomes ho-hum. (Her name is Nancy Mazzucchelli and she makes jewelry in her brownstone studio.) Like many other characters and moods in "The Brooklyn Follies," the B.P.M. ultimately becomes one of the numerous feints in the book. She ends up not really being a major character, but merely window dressing for the most Brooklyn of Auster’s works.

Certainly, the 58-year-old Sloper has written about New York before. The city, in fact, is a main character in "The New York Trilogy," and his movie, "Smoke," is set in a Park Slope candy store. And Auster himself is a very recognizable figure on Seventh Avenue and the focus of substantial lust among some readers.

"He’s a world-class writer, a real innovator," one woman recently posted on the blog, http://onlytheblogknowsbrooklyn.com, which is operated by The Brooklyn Papers columist Louise Crawford.

"He speaks French, makes wonderful independent movies and lives in a brownstone in Brooklyn. He is said to be a very generous, good person and has stayed married to a famous writer [Siri Hustvedt] for years. He also has a dog. What more could you want in a sex symbol?"

But Auster has never put his Brooklyn - specifically, Park Slope - so front and center in a book (and on the cover, too. Yes, that’s the corner of Seventh Avenue and Second Street on the book jacket).

The book’s main character, retired insurance salesman Nathan Glass, often grabs a sandwich at La Bagel Delight, a Seventh Avenue joint famous for its overstuffed sandwiches and garrulous countermen.

As narrator Glass puts it, "One Sunday morning, I went into a crowded deli with the absurd name of La Bagel Delight. I was intending to ask for a cinnamon-raisin bagel, but the word caught in my mouth and came out as cinnamon-reagan.

"Without missing a beat, the young guy behind the counter answered: ’Sorry, we don’t have any of those. How about a pumpernixon instead?’ Fast. So damned fast, I nearly wet my drawers."

From there, it’s onto Auster’s lunchtime haunt, rendered here as "The Cosmic Diner," but clearly a stand-in for the diners that Auster (and any Brooklynite) remembers from the not-so-distant past.

"The food there was mediocre at best, but one of the waitresses was an adorable Puerto Rican girl named Marina, and I rapidly developed a crush on her. She was half my age and already married, which meant that romance was out of the question, but she was so splendid to look at ... that I literally pined for her on her days off."

Now, why can’t the New Purity get a waitress like that?

Glass rents his movies from "Movie Heaven" (fictional), yet gets his hair cut at Park Slope Barbershop (a real Seventh Avenue place) and eats a nice meal at Mike & Tony’s steakhouse on Fifth Avenue (now closed and replaced by Moutarde).

Despite its rich setting, "The Brooklyn Follies" is not a full novel at all, but more of a scrapbook. The plot, such as it is, follows Glass, a recent cancer survivor, as he returns to his native Park Slope "to die," as he puts it on page one.

Yet, he does not die.

In fact, he doesn’t even succumb to the curmudgeonly impulses that caused his divorce, estrangement from his daughter and his complete lack of friends. The most fun of the "follies" consist of watching Glass transform from "a cruel and selfish person" to his ultimate redemption, thanks to his new life among the B.P.M.s, the bagel guys and bookstore owners with mysterious pasts.

He dives right into his new life in the borough as if he has gills.

He is not merely rejuvenated by moving to Park Slope, he is redeemed.

"The Brooklyn Follies" is by no means Auster’s best novel. (A strong case could be made for "The Book of Illusions" or "Leviathan," but neither of them is about Park Slope, so why bother?) Characters, like Glass’s beloved waitress or the B.P.M., come and go, and a main plot line involving a bookstore owner with a larcenous past, never seems to build to anything more than just an example of the folly of the title. And the less said about the last page - a September 11th ending that seems tacked on simply to jolt - the better.

But before that misstep, there’s plenty to enjoy. If you live in Park Slope, you’ll recognize the people, places and diner food. But if you don’t, you might be tempted to move to this wondrous place that does more for the soul than a month at Lourdes.

 

"The Brooklyn Follies" (Henry Holt and Co., $24) by Paul Auster is available at, or can be ordered through, these bookstores: The Bookmark Shoppe [6906 11th Ave. at 69th Street in Dyker Heights (718) 680-3680], BookCourt [163 Court St. at Dean Street in Cobble Hill, (718) 875-3677] and Barnes & Noble [267 Seventh Ave. at Sixth Street in Park Slope, (718) 832-9066].

Updated 4:00 pm, November 10, 2010
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Reasonable discourse

Ruby from Park Slope says:
There may be a debate, but I know who she is. She is my mother.
She would sit on the front steps with us everyday, wearing her overalls (on occasion), waiting for the bus. We still live in the same house on Carroll St, and she is truly an amazing mother, and a beautiful person. She told me that she read the novel and has always wanted to go up to Mr.Auster and tell him she knows, but she hasn't, because who doesn't love an enigma? :)
Oct. 13, 2016, 2:32 pm

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