Een wat vereenzaamde man, Daniel Quinn, midden-dertiger, schrijft onder het pseudoniem William Wilson detectiveromans. Niemand weet dat Quinn onder die schrijfnaam opereert. Ooit was hij dichter en essayist, maar na de dood van zijn vrouw en zijn zoon heeft hij die carrière stopgezet. Op een dag wordt hij gebeld door Peter Quinn, die op zoek is naar de privédetective Paul Auster. Quinn besluit nog een pseudoniem aan te nemen en beweert Auster te zijn. Uit dit gegeven groeit City of Glass (1985) – en eigenlijk ook het hele schrijverschap van Paul Auster, dat toen nog pril was.
Na City of Glass schreef Auster nog Ghosts en The locked room (allebei gepubliceerd in 1986). Deze drie boeken werden in één band samengebracht onder de titel The New York Trilogy. Daarna schreef hij nog veel meer, soms goede boeken, soms minder goede boeken, maar zo spot on als in deze drie boeken werd het niet meer (vind ik). Voordat hij City of Glass publiceerde, debuteerde Auster in 1982 met het autobiografische essayboek The invention of sollitude. Daarvoor had hij al wat dichtbundels geschreven. In 1984 debuteerde hij als schrijver van een detectiveroman, Squeeze Play. Die verscheen (uiteraard) onder een pseudoniem: Paul Benjamin. In 1985 debuteerde hij dus definitief; en die oerknal is nog niet uitgewerkt.
(…) William Wilson, after all, was an invention, and even though he had been born within Quinn himself, he now led an independent life. Quinn treated him with deference, at times even admiration, but he never went so far as to believe that he and William Wilson were the same man. It was for this reason that he did not emerge from behind the mask of his pseudonym. He had an agent, but they had never met. Their contacts were confined to the mail, for which purpose Quinn had rented a numbered box at the post office. The same was true of the publisher, who paid all fees, monies, and royalties to Quinn through the agent. No book by William Wilson ever included an author’s photograph or biographical note. William Wilson was not listed in any writers’ directory, he did not give interviews, and all the letters he received were answered by his agent’s secretary. As far as Quinn could tell, no one knew his secret. In the beginning, when his friends learned that he had given up writing, they would ask him how he was planning to live. He told them all the same thing: that he had inherited a trust fund from his wife. But the fact was that his wife had never had any money. And the fact was that he no longer had any friends.
It had been more than five years now. He did not think about his son very much anymore, and only recently he had removed the photograph of his wife from the wall. Every once in a while, he would suddenly feel what it had been like to hold the threeyear-old boy in his arms—but that was not exactly thinking, nor was it even remembering. It was a physical sensation, an imprint of the past that had been left in his body, and he had no control over it. These moments came less often now, and for the most part it seemed as though things had begun to change for him. He no longer wished to be dead. At the same time, it cannot be said that he was glad to be alive. But at least he did not resent it. He was alive, and the stubbornness of this fact had little by little begun to fascinate him—as if he had managed to outlive himself, as if he were somehow living a posthumous life. He did not sleep with the lamp on anymore, and for many months now he had not remembered any of his dreams.