Paul Auster’s The New York Trilogy has a title true to its promise. In a manner not dissimilar to John Dos Passos’ monument trilogy U.S.A, Auster’s definitive work is actually composed of three separate and distinct novel: City of Glass, Ghosts and The Locked Room. The primary unifying force behind these novels that makes them suitable for collecting together as a trilogy would appear at first glance to be that each is a detective story. A closer second appraisal reveals that the genuine force binding these three detective tales together is a force that Auster has termed “the mechanics of reality” but which the overwhelmingly majority of people know by another name.
Those series of coincidences that mark the narrative of the stories that make up The New York Trilogy are interconnected to one way or another with yet another piece of threat tying the stories together: the Double. The real mystery at the heart of the quest of the detectives in this book is how identity of the self is inextricably intertwined with the legitimacy of the self and how those unexpected yet hardly ever surprising “mechanics of reality” serve to interfere with the processes of apprehending identity and establishing legitimacy.
Of course, it should definitely be noted that an essential component of Auster’s vision of reality’s mechanical structure is the inevitability of ambiguity. One typically dives into a detective novel with a safety net strung tautly beneath them holding out the promise that everything will be neatly tied up by the final page. Detective fiction is not a bastion of ambiguity, so the fact that it can be found in these stories serves to remind the reader that when all is said and done, The New York Trilogy is more firmly entrenched within the genre of the postmodern novel than detective fiction.
One of the more startling examples of how the postmodernist structure connects firmly with the themes of identity is the not exactly coincidental appearance of a character named Paul Auster who is a writer. Then there is the significant contextual connection between great American writers of the 1800s like Poe, Melville and Hawthorne and the even more direct intertextual relationship between City of Glass and Don Quixote.
The postmodernist heart of the trilogy’s obsession with identity and legitimacy extends even beyond the book’s publication. In 2004, City of Glass was transformed into an experimental graphic novel by Paul Karasik and David Mazzucchelli under the title City of Glass: A Graphic Mystery in 2004. Even more to the point, perhaps, was the 2006 reissue adorned with magnificently lurid cover art in the style of classic 1940s pulp detective magazine covers. Certainly, it was no mere coincidence that the cover art was the work of another member of the postmodern vanguard: Art Spiegelman, the creator of the revolutionary comic book Maus.