ENG441b: Contemporary American Literature, Fiction
Prof. E. Joy
19 March 2008
Oracle Night's Not/Happy Ending
Paul Auster’s Oracle Night is my favorite novel from this class thus far. Though I am not a writer, I felt it very easy to connect with Sidney Orr, which is always nice. It makes reading less of an effort. What confuses me, though, is the fact that this novel was introduced to us as a mystery novel. There was supposed to be something in the book that we, as readers, would never figure out. This led me to believe there would be no closure in this novel. I feel as if I blanked out while reading or something like that because I actually got closure from Auster’s ending. It even has an arguably happy conclusion with Sid and Grace healing together and moving forward. It was basically like the ending of Jane Eyre in the sense that both of them were equals in terms of their “handicaps” at the end. Of course I am referring to the fact that Jane is a woman (apparently a deficiency during that time) and Edward Rochester is blind by the end of the novel.
The only unresolved issues I have with the novel are actually the reasons why I feel it fits in well with the theme of the class. When Sid begins to believe that written words have enough power to affect reality, he begins experiencing the slipstream motif we have learned about. The concept enters the story as strategically placed exposition. It is strategic due to the fact that it keeps the continuity of the moment, of course. Sid recalls John Trause telling him about a story of an author friend of his:
“…this writer acquaintance published a book-length narrative poem that revolved around the drowning death of a young child. Two months after the book was released, the writer and his family went on a vacation to the Normandy coast, and on the last day of their trip his five-year-old daughter waded out into the choppy waters of the English Channel and drowned.” (Auster p. 220)
At the time, Sid dismissed the author’s decision as foolish, but then he reconsidered during the story’s present-time and decided that there was a strong possibility that words really could change what is really going on around him.
The real confusion, however, emerges with the fact that directly before relating this story as the narrator, Sid writes a story in the blue Portuguese notebook about Grace having an affair with John Trause before and after her marriage with Sid. I could not help but feel as if I were being set up for something and it reached fruition on page 235 when Jacob, Trause’s son, says, “After all, you’re sort of my unofficial stepmom, aren’t you? At least you used to be. Doesn’t that count for something?” as he pleads for a loan. There are only so many things he could mean by this. The best case scenario, at least for Sid, would be that Jacob simply meant that Grace was basically extended family. It is a simple enough proposal considering she was closer to his father than to him.
The problem arises with the line “At least you used to be.” From the novel, it seems evident that John and Grace still have a close relationship. Also, Sid remarks that Jacob does not actually say this in a pleading manner, but rather one of mockery. He is trying to push her buttons. Did Sid’s story come true? Why else would Jacob say “stepmom”? If he were being figurative, why would he not simply say “mom” or “adoptive mother”? The evidence is stacked against her in this point. It seems apparent that Grace had some sort of sexual relationship with John at some point; presumably around the time when Jacob spat in her face.
This does not mean that she had an extramarital affair with John, though. Is this the question which will never be answered? I cannot see this part of Sid’s story as anything other than speculation. Another good point is the fact that Sid makes it very clear that even if she did have an affair, she was staying with him and that was all he ever cared about. Quibbling about whether or not she cheated on him seems rather asinine at that point. Also, the baby with questionable parentage was lost along with John, himself. The only person Grace may have ever left Sid for has died of a heart attack and even her attacker was killed. It seems that our protagonist and his relationship have a happy ending (or “not ending” as the case may be).