After establishing the parental background and birth of Archie Ferguson, 4 3 2 1 promptly splits oﬀ into four directions, four possible paths of this one person. While certain aspects of each life are constant — all four Archies have an interest in writing and most are attracted to same woman — there’s a fair amount of variance in each version and how the constants are played out. Rooted in the banalities of each life, the concept is compelling but sometimes bogged down in too much detail. Archie #1’s experience working on Columbia’s newspaper during the 1968 Vietnam War protests, and to a lesser extent Archie #4’s exposure to the Newark race riots, bordered on a slog-level amount of detail, and I’m not sure for what purpose exactly in the greater context of the novel.
At my less generous moments, I felt like this was a cross between Boyhood and a choose-your-own-adventure novel: which life of privilege will our hero grow into, feeling angst about it all the way? But maybe that is part of the message — the possible variations of one life are actually not inﬁnite, and those deviations do not change the immutable characteristics of a person. Aside from the slight frustration about the Archies being presented as a combined everyman, I enjoy reading Paul Auster’s prose, so the 800+ pages were an overall pleasurable eﬀort. The resolution of the four-part concept was a little disappointing, but I can’t say more without spoiling.