A Tale of ‘What If’s… of Epic Proportions
Firstly, a disclaimer. This book is a beast. It weighs in at about 860 pages, and it’s not an easy read. However, don’t let that deter you.
I dived straight into it without reading the blurb (I love to do that, to leap in without any preconceived notions) – so I had no idea what it was about. Initially, it followed the life of a Jewish family arriving in New York, though it swiftly became apparent that the star of the show was Archie Ferguson; who starts as a young child then grows as the book continues.
So far, so straightforward, right?
However, then something strange starts to happen. The chapters sub-divide, and with each section, we’re presented with a different version of Ferguson. The Ferguson who would have existed, had something vital happened at the right (or wrong) moment in time.
In total, there were four versions of Ferguson, though by the end, we were left with only one. I won’t spoil it for you, but believe me, the end had me clutching my Kindle, mouth wide open, pondering the meaning of life. It was that good.
So, it’s a Bit ‘Sliding Door’s, Right?
Essentially, the concept is similar. This is a book that asks the big question – what would life have been like if X had happened, rather than Y? Auster sums it up beautifully in one of the chapters, where Ferguson writes a story about a man travelling down three possible roads, and the frustration of never knowing whether the road he chooses is the right one or not.
However, the book goes way deeper than that. It asks big questions about nature vs nurture, and about who the real Ferguson is. It probes into the nature of relationships; how they’re not just affected by the present, but the past too. It also explores American history in depth, which was at times a little dense, but worthwhile ploughing through.
Should You Read it?
Hell yes! Set aside a good few weeks to get through it (because you might find yourself completely hooked like I was) – but go for it. He’s a genius writer. I’ll have to revisit The New York Trilogy now, another big favourite of mine!