In a Pennsylvania meadow, a young fireman and an angry gambler are forced to build a wall of fifteenth-century stone. For Jim Nashe, it all started when he came into a small inheritance and left Boston in pusuit of "a life of freedom." Careening back and forth across the United States, waiting for the money to run out, Nashe met Jack Pozzi, a young man with a temper and a plan. With Nashe's last funds, they entered a poker game against two rich eccentrics, "risking everything on the single turn of a card." In Paul Auster's world of fiendish bargains and punitive whims, where chance is a shifting and powerful force, there is redemption, nonetheless, in Nashe's resolute quest for justice and his capacity for love.
Auster's ( Moon Palace ; the New York Trilogy) offbeat and strangely compelling black comedy invites speculation about the counterpointing of choice and chance, and carries resonances of Samuel Beckett. With a windfall of nearly $200,000, Jim Nashe abandons his stalled life, leaves his small daughter Juliette with Minnesota relatives and compulsively drives around the country for a year. He meets a frail, spunky, badly beaten youngster, self-advertised jackpot winner Jack Pozzi, and agrees to finance Pozzi in an epic poker match against an apparently childlike but actually malign pair named Flower and Stone in their remote mansion. Ruined in the game, Nashe and Pozzi try to work off their huge debt by building a wall out of 10,000 stones from an imported Irish castle, under the baleful overseer Murks, who gets Nashe's prized car. Affection springs up between Nashe and ``the kid,'' Pozzi, but optimism erodes as their plight becomes clear, disaster befalls Pozzi and numbing toil stretches endlessly. In his lucid, captivating yarn, Auster quietly raises disturbing questions of servants and masters, of loyalty, freedom and the inexplicable urge to kill.