Once again it's lovely to be in the hands of such a capable story teller even if the facts of story itself are not clear to us.
Most of the story is set in the momentous year of 1967; as I just finished the book about the Smothers Brothers, that time is much on my mind. The main character, narrator of the first part, is Adam Walker, a student at Columbia. Adam tells about meeting a man named Rudolf Born by chance; their few meetings together culminated in a horrible violent event, and changed the course of Adam's life. In his effort to recount his story many years later, Adam reflects,
…then one night the solution came to me. My approach had been wrong, I realized. By writing about myself in the first person, I had smothered myself and made myself invisible, had made it impossible for me to find the thing I was looking for. I needed to separate myself from myself, to step back and carve out some space…
This explains, I guess, the use of the second person, to recount what happens to Adam in the second part which is not related to the first part, and is pretty unnerving in a very different way. The use of the second person seems like an unsubtle message or an exercise in a creative writing class. The remaining two sections are the more conventional third person. And it is in these sections that you learn you are not sure about the essential elements of the stories in the first two parts.
It is nice to have the reason for the name of the book clarified; Adam has trouble seeing himself whatever voice he uses to write, as we all do.
Adam works for a time in Butler Library at Columbia; when he applied for the job, he had to demonstrate his competence in using the Dewey Decimal System. I first wondered if it was possible that Paul Auster, who was a student at Columbia, could have been so mistaken in writing that Columbia's library used Dewey rather than the Library of Congress used by academic libraries. I was reassured to learn that because Mr. Dewey was a librarian at Columbia College, the library continued to use Dewey and in fact it was in 1967 that they began to catalog newly acquired books using Library of Congress. A momentous year indeed.