„The Music of Chance“ by Paul Auster is a story about a man who leaves his former life behind and starts to live on the road. His name is Jim Nashe. After traveling around for almost a year he picks up the young Jack Pozzi, a hitchhiking gambler, who tells him about a special poker game with two eccentric millionaires, Flower and Stone. Seeing the chance to increase his slipping budget, he sponsors ten thousand dollars for this game to let the kid expand this sum.
After opening the book, the first sentence already tells you about Nashe‘s current way of living. He has traveled through America in his car for one whole year and he is thinking back about the events that brought him to this point. The events and circumstance are told in chronological order and so it‘s quite easy to read, with soft transitions to the next incident. It‘s like reading a short maintenance history with plain explanations and reasons why he did things, without much feelings and told in a dry tone.
After his wife left him, Nashe can‘t take care of his little daughter Juliette anymore. With his full-time job in the fire department he thinks it is the best solution to give Juliette to his sister in Minnesota. But then he suddenly inherits almost two hundred thousand dollars from his missing father, who died of cancer. He had never seen his father consciously, because he left the family when Nashe was two. With all that money, Nashe buys the car of his dreams and goes on his first vacation since four years.
After that, he decides to visit his sister‘s family in Minnesota. His plan was to take Juliette back to Boston with him and to start a new life, without his wife, but with enough money to pay someone to look after his daughter. But after having been away for almost half a year, he realizes it would be much better for Juliette to stay with his sister‘s family. Juliette hardly recognizes him after he had been just a voice on the telephone for almost six months and so he comes to the decision to leave her in his sister‘s rock-solid family with the other kids and to go back to Boston alone.
As he wants to go back to Massachusetts, Nashe suddenly realizes that he is traveling in the wrong direction, but strangely he doesn‘t care. After recognizing that he was totally free and for the next two weeks he starts to drive around without a destination and soon he finds pleasure in it and continues, sleeping in motels and getting back on the road next morning.
The freedom of Nashe makes you kind of jealous. It soon makes you want to do something like this yourself, living a life that is so simple, so full of possibilities and that is completely in your hands. He can do whatever he wants, he can go wherever he likes and who wouldn‘t love to explore the whole United States in a car, without any duties to exercise or things to worry about. Just listening to music while you drive, enjoying the landscape and let your thoughts just flow must be an incredible feeling. Carefree, without any appointments or people who want things from you, without having to care about anyone or anything and just stop driving when the hunger or the fatigue tells you to. A life on the road, sleeping in another town everyday and be completely in accord with yourself, that‘s probably the dream of a lot of people.
The way this life of Nashe is described fits perfectly to what is described. You can read rapidly over the pages, following the events that happen while Nashe drives and getting descriptions of how Nashe thinks about his new way of living. It goes on like this for some time, but then Nashe slowly becomes aware of the limit that is set to him: The money. He never had to take care of anything before, but after almost a year on the road he realizes how expensive a life without any earnings is. At the beginning he tries not to think about it and spend less money, but he knows that sooner or later it will be over. Nashe tries not to be pushed into a panic, but he senses that one or two months later everything will be over.
At that point he suddenly meets the young Jack Pozzi. Meet is maybe not the right word, he more or less saves Pozzi‘s life. The young man was just beaten up by some people he played Poker with and tried to get away from them as fast as he could. He walked along a country road, covered with welts and bruises, when Nashe saw him. Instinctively he knew that this young man needed help and without thinking about it he asked Pozzi if he wanted to get into the car.
At the beginning, Pozzi seems to be mute, collapsing at the moment he touches the seat, but after some time and a coffee he starts to talk. The way the two men talk is pretty much similar, both with a lot of familiar words and casual expressions. They get along very well, talking like they‘ve been best friends since their childhood. When you read on, you think they might have some kind of affinity. Both of them use these nice sentences that come out of your mouth very easily, always with a little bit of sarcasm and always with the knowledge what to say next to keep the conversation superficial and easy-going.
They understand each other from the very beginning and after the first page of conversation between them you know they‘re going to be friends.
Nashe takes Pozzi with him to New York and on their way, Pozzi tells Nashe about his awesome poker-skills, about the story that brought him to this point (sitting in Nashe‘s car) and finally about that special game of poker he needs ten thousand dollars for. Nashe is interested immediately and sees his chance to get out of his crisis with the money. The kid is absolutely sure about his victory and after listening a while to Pozzi‘s stories about how he could beat the two millionaires if he had the money, Nashe finally proposes a risky deal to Pozzi: Jack will get his ten thousand dollars for the game and whatever he wins will be split in the half, one half for Pozzi and one for Nashe. The kid agrees and in New York they start to prepare everything for the big night.
They spend a day in New York together, coddling Pozzi up again. Nashe buys him a new outfit and tries to provide Jack with everything he needs. Nashe starts to feel some kind of protective instinct towards Pozzi, as he tells him some stories out of his life. He finds out that there are many similarities between his life and Pozzi‘s life: They both grew up without a father and when they were older they both received a big amount of money that changed their lives forever. Little by little they become more than just strangers who get along, first colleague, then friends. Nashe doesn‘t like it, but he knows he has to test Pozzi‘s skills, and so they play some games of poker in the evening. Nashe is a good player, but Pozzi blows him away with his abilities. With an unbreakable certainty to win the game, they take off to the house of Flower and Stones.
Between all these events there are always the philosophical thoughts of Nashe, full of metaphors and descriptions of how he deals with the situations and what he thinks about the things he‘s doing. Nashe often observes his brain and his feelings as he would be an outsider, and he is fully aware of what is going on in his head. The reader learns a lot about Nashe‘s insecurities and his changes of feelings, everything nicely wrapped up in Auster‘s typical rich but clear and intelligent language. It‘s interesting to watch that man who had a very simple life for almost a year and who now starts to think again about his actions and feelings. Now he has a responsibility again and he‘s taking a risk.
The structure and the mixture of the dry descriptions of a situation, Nashe‘s world of thoughts with all these metaphors and the relaxed, but intelligently written conversation between Pozzi and Nashe let you rapidly and comfortably read through the pages. The paragraphs are set reasonably and everything written in them is always comprehensible and never complicated, but always with a slight feeling of an arriving disaster.
After a long drive they finally find the house of Flower and Stone. The gardener called Murks opens the doors for them and they meet Flower and Stones, two friends who live together since they won the lottery. The millionaires show them their house, which is a huge palace-like building, separated into Flower‘s and Stones‘s part. Nashe is especially fascinated by „The city of the world“, a model of an imaginary city Stone‘s building since over ten years. In the evening the four men start the big game. Nashe doesn‘t play himself, he just tries to support Pozzi and watch out for eventual dangers.
At the beginning the game is going on normally, without a lot of events, but with the steady growing of Jack and Pozzi‘s money. After hours of a well-running game Nashe hears the call of the nature and leaves the room. He planned to return immediately, but suddenly an idea changes his mind and he sneaks up to Stone‘s room to look at the „City of the world“ again. He spends over an hour up there, admiring every detail of the impressing model. With a good feeling he returns to the game again, curious how much money Pozzi had won since he left.
But it turns out that things have changed during his absence. The pile of coins in front of Pozzi has shrunk dangerously and the look on his face turned from „I‘m gonna win“ to „Oh my god“. Nashe is shocked about the situation, but he keeps telling himself that this is a good sign and Pozzi will change the situation again soon.
That never happens. Nashe, who sees the end of their budget, places his remaining private money and his car. But it doesn‘t help and the chips keep on disappearing. At the end, Pozzi risks everything… but they lose. Desperately acknowledging that they can‘t go anywhere without any money and without the car, Nashe proposes to Flower to cut for his car. If he lost, he would owe Flower ten thousand dollars.
And he loses. Everybody is at the end of his nerves, and Nashe and Jack just want to leave. But the millionaires won‘t let them get away with a debt of ten thousand dollars. After some arguing, they come up with an idea: Nashe and Pozzi will build a wall of ten thousand stones for them, and after having worked for fifty days the debt will be payed off.
Nashe welcomes the idea, he needs a change in his life and a target after driving around for over a year without any plan. Pozzi wants to leave at first, but his conscience lets him stay with Nashe. They get to know Murks, the gardener of Flower and Stone, who shows them the trailer where they are going to live for the next two months. The trailer is located in a huge meadow where the stones are sitting too. Murks instructs them what to do and the next day, they start to work. In the beginning the work isn‘t very hard and they spend their days with preparations for the actual wall.
The life in the meadow doesn‘t sound bad, Jack and Pozzi get everything they need from Murks and after the work is done they can relax in the trailer, read books or listen to music. Again you start to crave a life like this, you begin to wish you could live like this, knowing exactly what to do, having a particular exercise you have to fulfill everyday and always having a target to work for sounds quite attractive to me.
But besides all the simplicity of their lives and the comfort of having nothing to care for Nashe and Pozzi start to notice a strange feeling of being caged. They are not allowed to use the jeep to move the stones and the gardener Murks is always with them, watching every step they take. Out of this they develop an awkward relationship towards Murks, who, on one hand, does everything to make them feel comfortable, but on the other supervises them with all his mistrust.
Auster describes these circumstances with his usual rich vocabulary, making it absolutely clear for you how the two man feel and what makes them do things. The descriptions are always precisely observing and show you what is going on in an easy way, alternating between a listening what happens at the moment and a description what is going on in Nashe‘s head. The writing is again similar to the way the men talk: With a lot of sentences that fit exactly into the next one and a lot of reasonable and authentic expressions. Everything is told in a light, but dry tone, easily to read and with nice sentences and paragraphs, but for the reader there is again this feeling of a dark shadow that is hanging over the story, a cloud that will produce rain, sooner or later.
It‘s also interesting that the descriptions of such a simple and monotone work never get boring. You want to read on, you want to learn more about the situation of the two men, because you feel that there is more behind it, that there is some kind of secret that will be discovered one day. During the reading, you begin to wait for something, something that is already there, but you can‘t see it. With every page, Auster offers you new details and new little turns that make the narration interesting. You watch a progress, on one hand a development of a wall, on the other the development of two men, who always lived a life without a target and who now have something to grow, if they like it or not. You watch the highs and the lows of Nashe and Pozzi, the developing relationship between them and an approaching catastrophe you can‘t see.
After over two months the day when the debt is payed off is in sight. Pozzi wants to celebrate their escape from the meadow and so he „orders“ everything for a party from Murks, alcohol, finest food and a girl, thinking that these things are „included“. On their last day in the meadow they work as hard as never before and celebrate their success in the evening. Pozzi has a lot of fun with the girl, and she also seems to be attracted to him. The next day, Pozzi and Nashe want to work on to earn some more money for their way home, but Murks presents them a bill for all the things they consumed in the last months and so it comes down that they have to pay off another debt.
Pozzi can‘t stand this thought and so he decides to leave. He and Nashe dig a hole under the fence that surrounds the estate and at night Pozzi disappears, leaving Nashe alone with the debt. But the next day he finds Pozzi completely beaten up in front of the trailer, barely alive. Murks arrives and they decide to take Pozzi to the hospital. As Nashe wants to get on the jeep too, the son-in-law of Murks, who joined them, throws him to the ground and they take Pozzi away, without him.
The next days Nashe grows an incredible hate for Murks, he is sure he did that to Pozzi. Nashe suddenly understands the strange behavior of Murks: They are not free as long as the debt isn‘t payed off and Murks will do everything to keep them working for Flower and Stones. The millionaires in person don‘t show their faces one time and Nashe begins to get more and more desperate. He has strange dreams and he starts to get obsesses with the thought that Murks killed Pozzi. During the day he tries to work as quiet as he can, not attracting any attention, but inside he feels like he wants to kill Murks. Living with the constant fear that Murks could kill him too lets him build up an incredible rage. The life on the meadow is no longer simple, his mistrust towards Murks is huge and Nashe drives himself into a complete paranoia. One day, Murks brings his little grandson to the meadow and Nashe‘s hate starts to concentrate on the little boy. He starts to develop fantasies how he could kill the child and his obsession grows every day the boy is with him.
All these terrible feelings are covered with an awful sadness about Pozzi‘s eventual death. Nashe just works like a machine and finds no more pleasure in books or music. He misses the kid a lot, thinking of him all day and making plans how he could revenge him. Murks keeps telling him that Pozzi is in hospital, but Nashe is sure that Pozzi is dead. After a while, he can‘t stand the uncertainty anymore and he tells Murks to bring the girl to the trailer again. Nashe tells the girl about the situation and because she liked Pozzi a lot, she promises to write a letter to Nashe when she found out more about Pozzi‘s situation.
The letter does not come, but Nashe tries not to despair and to bear it until the end. On his birthday Nashe finally manages to get back to point zero. The debt is payed off and Murks and Floyd invite him for a drink in the evening, a drink in freedom. Even if he despises the two men, he decides to go with them. They have some drinks at a local bar, but soon they decide to go back. Nashe asks Murks if he could drive and Murks agrees. Nashe gets into he driver‘s seat and suddenly the old feeling to be on the road comes back to him. He starts to drive faster and faster, enjoying the feeling with all his senses, not hearing the screams of Murks and Floyd. When he sees the headlight, it‘s already too late, and instead of slamming his foot on the brakes, he presses down the gas and closes his eyes…
„The music of chance“ is an extraordinary book that makes you think a lot about your life and your destiny. It‘s a story about two men, Nashe who calmly waits for what is coming and the spirited Pozzi who always wants to do something to change his situation. They both got into their current situation because of a big amount of money and they both thought they could live an easy life now.
The story of the book seems absolutely crazy and implausible, but I think it wasn‘t Auster‘s wish to write a completely reasonable book. It‘s a story about the fact that life is a chain of happenstances, but that there is also some kind of destiny and some parts you can control by yourself. It‘s about friendship, bad and good luck, responsibility and the fact that life is never simple, no matter how simple your mission seems to be.
For me the book also appears to be a criticism of America, a critical look on the people that try live a fast and simple life, dominated by money. The book shows that nobody can have a life like this, without duties or things to worry about. It‘s not possible to survive completely on your own, with nobody and nothing around you can‘t control. There will always be situations and people you have to deal with, things that will disturb you perfectly simple life, things that will make you feel, in a positive or a negative way.
The book is quite philosophic, and because of all these happenstances and crazy events, it appears real again, like a real life. There are many things you wouldn‘t have exspected, after a simple listing of events that fit reasonably together. For the reader it‘s like for Jack and Pozzi, they think it will go on like this, simple and without an anomaly in the easy scheme: win or lose. But it doesn‘t work this way, there are too many factors that will prohibit a life like this. There will always be your feelings.