“Sunset park” is the story of Miles Heller, a 28-year-old college dropout from New York who has perfected the art of leading a life devoid of hopes, dreams, or ambitions. At the beginning of the book, Miles is in Florida working as a trash-out worker cleaning out houses repossessed by the banks, the latest in a string of meaningless blue-collar jobs. This is Miles’s way of punishing himself after he inadvertently killed his step-brother Bobby during a quarrel, and he has therefore cut all forms of contact with his family for the last 7 years. The only one he has kept in touch with is his old classmate Bing who, unbeknown to Miles, has kept his dad, step-mom, and movie star mom appraised of his latest whereabouts.
What keeps Miles in Florida is his relationship with Pilar Sanchez, a high school girl who is wise beyond her years but whose family is blackmailing Miles to steal abandoned items from the houses he cleans out. Miles refuses and instead flees temporarily to New York while Pilar finishes high school and reaches her maturity. Once there, Miles moves into an abandoned house in Sunset Park in Brooklyn with Bing and two women, and slowly but surely takes his first steps towards redemption and reconciliation with his family.
“Sunset park” is not Paul Auster at his very best (but then a lot of his early works are nothing short of extraordinary!), but it is still a quiet, thought-provoking book that is well worth reading. Also, while Miles is the common thread in the novel, the book is actually told from the perspective of multiple people: Bing, Morris (Miles’s father), Mary-Lee (Miles’s mother), Alice and Ellen (his flatmates in Brooklyn), as well as Miles himself. This adds a lot of nuances to the story and allows the reader not only to see Miles from multiple angles, but also to follow separate minor story lines that in themselves are very interesting, e.g. Morris’s battle to save his marriage and publishing house from the effects of his own infidelity and the financial crisis, respectively, or Ellen’s attempts at reviving her lacklustre career as an artist. For me, this made the book all the more evocative and left me with a sense of loss once I reached the somewhat abrupt ending.