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Baggage Check

Four new books and the family issues their authors carry with them.

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Paul Auster
The Book
The Brooklyn Follies (Henry Holt)
An aging cynic moves from Westchester to Brooklyn to live out his last years, but suddenly—thanks to a kooky cast of characters—finds life more interesting than ever.
The Baggage
Once one of New York’s favorite writers, Auster has had, like Woody Allen, less success in recent years. His wife Siri Hustvedt’s last novel, What I Loved—which fictionalized his own son’s entanglement in a club murder—got better reviews than his own.
The Baggage in the Book
Auster’s protagonist is older and more bitter than previous narrators, even as Auster ages and his critics become more polarized about his legacy. Coincidence?
Most Cynical Interpretation of the Book
Auster, losing his grip on the moderate center, is looking to solidify his base by going back to his home borough—and putting it in the title.


Siri Hustvedt
The Book
A Plea for Eros (Picador)
Essays from the erudite novelist on sex, culture, art, literature, and herself. Her last entry reveals that she nearly died in infancy and heard voices as a child.
The Baggage
Hustvedt saw her star rise even as Auster’s was in decline—and all for cribbing from the family’s personal troubles.
The Baggage in the Book
Not to be outdone by Waldman (see below) in the realm of crazy author love, Hustvedt writes of getting a migraine “after many months of ecstatic feeling had reached an aching zenith when I married the man I wanted. The attack began on our honeymoon in Paris with a seizure . . .”
Most Cynical Interpretation of the Book
Hustvedt, between novels, decides to publish writing that reveals more of herself and less of her family.


Karenna Gore Schiff
The Book
Lighting the Way (Miramax-Weinstein; February 8)
Stories of nine women, from Mother Jones to Gretchen Buchenholz, who’ve fought for social justice.
The Baggage
The second published daughter of Al Gore, after her sister Kristin’s D.C. chick-lit novel, Sammy’s Hill, tried to wring artful romance out of a tired genre and a domestic-policy-wonk protagonist.
The Baggage in the Book
In her introduction, the scion of generations of politicians calls out “the best politician in the Gore family”—and it’s not Al but her unelected grandmother Pauline Lafon Gore.
Most Cynical Interpretation of the Book
The best way to position yourself for a future run for office is to write a celebratory political history, not a shoddy political romance.


Ayelet Waldman
The Book
Love and Other Impossible Pursuits (Doubleday; January 24)
Jack and Emilia cope with the death of their infant daughter while taking care of Jack’s son, William, by a previous wife, forming a love-hate triangle that threatens to break when Jack’s ex-wife gets pregnant again.
The Baggage
Writing in the shadow of husband Michael Chabon, especially after contributing a Times “Styles” column that bragged about preferring her Adonis of a mate to her own children. A recent joint magazine interview demonstrated that for this couple, there’s no such thing as too much information.
The Baggage in the Book
A mother who’s publicly declared she’d more readily survive her children’s deaths than her husband’s writes a novel about a couple’s relationship strained by the death of their child?
Most Cynical Interpretation of the Book
After getting lots of good pre-novel attention by going on about her sextastic marriage, Waldman is now looking to redeem herself by writing sympathetically of a bereaved family and the ties between children and parents.


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