Celebrated novelist Paul Auster tells the extraordinary story of Stephen Crane, best known as the author of The Red Badge of Courage, who transformed American literature through an avalanche of original short stories, novellas, poems, journalism and war reportage before his life was cut short by tuberculosis at age 28.
... a labor of love of a kind rare in contemporary letters. A detailed, nearly eight-hundred-page account...it seems motivated purely by a devotion to Crane’s writing ... Auster plainly loves Crane—and wants the reader to—for Crane’s own far-from-sweet sake. And Auster is right: Crane counts ... The book comes fully to life when it evokes the fabric of the Crane family in New Jersey ... Auster is often sharp-eyed and revealing about the details of Crane’s writing, as when he points out how much Crane’s tone of serene omniscience depends on the passive construction of his sentences. But when he implies that Crane is original because he summons up interior experience in the guise of exterior experience—makes a psychology by inspecting a perceptual field—he is a little wide of the mark ... Auster...is very good at picking out superb stuff from Crane’s mostly submerged journalism ... Crane...emerges from this book, as from his own, as the least phony great American writer who ever lived.
... a metabiography—a long rumination on a short existence and the many radiant texts it produced ... suffused by a melancholy over contingency, wistful wonder at what Crane might have accomplished had he lived to Auster’s age of 74 ... Much of Burning Boy takes the uninitiated reader through Crane’s novels, short stories, poems, and journalistic sketches. It quotes extensively from those works and will leave some readers sated but others eager to read Crane on their own. This is a writer’s book, and much of its interest lies in the opportunity to see how one brilliant writer responds to another ... Auster, who titled his 1982 memoir The Invention of Solitude, describes writers as 'the strangest, loneliest people on earth.' This generous book breaches that solitude.
Auster’s book is aimed...at civilians, so-called general readers, and he must think they have a lot of stamina. Burning Boy is seldom dull—it’s often thrilling, in fact, to see a contemporary American writer engage so deeply with one of his forebears—but it can be exhausting ... Auster...is an excellent reader, it turns out, alert to all the nuances and surprises of Crane’s style, but these lengthy passages of analysis inevitably slow the book down and can make you forget that Crane’s was a life lived at a hectic, almost frantic pace ... Auster is especially good on Crane’s last couple of years, which began with a sort of crackup ... Auster leaves you in no doubt about Crane’s genius ... I’m not sure, though, that Auster succeeds in expanding the list of essential Crane much beyond Red Badge and the pieces that are already in the anthologies ... the real news here—for me, anyway—is Crane’s newspaper and magazine journalism, which would be worth reading even if Crane had never written a word of fiction.