‘Book of Illusions’ a masterful story about love and loss

‘Book of Illusions’ a masterful story about love and loss

‘Book of Illusions’ a masterful story about love and loss(June 4, 2024) — Paul Auster’s death last month was the jolt I needed to go to my shelves and pull out his 2009 “The Book of Illusions.”

Although not his most recent, it’s one I’d promised myself I would eventually read. In short, it is a novel about life, which means it is about death, loss, family, love, mystery, synchronicity and, above all, life.

David Zimmer’s world falls apart upon the death of his wife and two young sons, whose lives end as the plane they were in dropped from the sky. His life as a college professor and published author disintegrates into the arms of depression, alcohol, suicidal fantasies and the lack of any way to escape his grief.

That all changes when Zimmer sees a clip from a television show highlighting the last silent film comedians before the miracle of sound. In a brief bit of film, Hector Mann – a comedic actor he’s never heard of – makes him laugh for the first time since the death of his family.

The two-minute TV clip was from 1928. When Zimmer learns from the same broadcast that Mann mysteriously disappeared from films in 1929 and is presumed dead, Zimmer becomes obsessed with Hector Mann. Who was he? How many of his earlier films could still be seen? Did they ever find out what happened to him?

A new direction

Zimmer’s grief had a new direction, which included traveling to every film museum or library that had at least one of the 12 known Mann films. He watched the films over and over, taking notes, almost memorizing what it was about Mann that made him different from others.

By 1988, Zimmer had written and published a book about the films, mostly about why Mann’s comedic acting was so distinctive. He could not write about the actor himself because there was so little information available.

After all those years, Zimmer believed that Mann was indeed dead. But Zimmer receives a letter from a woman claiming to be Mann’s wife, telling him that Mann has read Zimmer’s book and wants to meet him at their ranch in New Mexico. And the story takes off.

Zimmer responds, but before he hears more, a stranger claiming to be related to Mrs. Mann arrives at his house in Vermont. Backed with a gun, she tells Zimmer that Mann is dying, and they must fly back to New Mexico immediately. She will explain it all.

Auster packs everything into the last two days of Mann’s life: his disappearance, a romance, contractual tragedy, arson, murder, more romance and suicide. Hardly time to catch one’s breath, the reader is back in Vermont with Zimmer.

“The Book of Illusions” provides mystery, film history, romance, tragedy. I loved the plot and all the characters, dead and living. Five hundred words don’t feel like enough.

Visit Sunny Solomon’s website at bookinwithsunny.com for her latest recommendations or just to ‘talk books.’

Sunny Solomon
Sunny Solomon
Freelance writer at Clayton Book Club | Website

Sunny Solomon holds an MA in English/Creative Writing, San Francisco State University. She is a book reviewer for “The Clayton Pioneer” and her poetry and other writing has been published in literary journals, one chapbook, In the Company of Hope and the collection, Six Poets Sixty-six Poems. She was the happy manager of Bonanza Books, Clayton, CA and Clayton Books, Clayton, CA. She continues to moderate a thriving book club that survived the closure of the store from which it began. Sunny currently lives next to the Truckee in Reno, NV.