Imagine trotting through life as a dog. After a long day tracking fetid smells, barking at alarming sounds, and feverishly scratching fleas, you slouch into the evening with a bowl of dried food. Sound fun? Well, this is the easy life when compared to the trials of Mr. Bones, the furry, faithful protagonist of Paul Auster's latest, Timbuktu.
As far as dogs go, Mr. Bones stands tails above your average canine. First of all, he understands English. He gets more than the babble-babble-Mr.-Bones-babble-babble that most dogs understand. This four-legged hero scores high when it comes to verbal comprehension, making him the perfect companion for the non-stop chatterbox that is his master, Willy Christmas. A casualty of the 1960s, Willy partied heavily with psychedelic pharmaceuticals and paid a steep psychological price. The bill for his sanity arrived late one night during his furlough from rehab. After bonding with a hallucination of Santa Claus transmitted to him through his TV, Willy's life purpose became the preaching of the good word of St. Nick to anyone within earshot. As a traveling companion and an open set of ears, Mr. Bones lives a life as directionless as the endless rants of his lunatic companion. Yet for all the shortcomings of hanging out with a wacko who talks continually about the ills of society and the divine grace of Santa, the two find happiness. A life on the streets is also a life of adventure. Willy is full of insane schemes, and, like Jim to a restless Huck Finn, Mr. Bones gets drawn into all sorts of mischievous plans.
So when Willy pronounces sadly that his days on this earth are numbered, it is with a heavy heart that Mr. Bones heads for parts unknown in search of a new master. In this quest for an appropriate soul mate, the real trials for this luckless, albeit gifted, hound begin.
Paul Auster's Timbuktu relates these adventures and much more. Taking life from a dog's-eye view treats us to a better understanding of the cruelties of our urban environs. Willy and Mr. Bones help us see not only how colorful but also how difficult life on the streets can be. Timbuktu celebrates a strange pair, but does so with a nose for the joys of the wanderer as well as for the vicissitudes of the lives of the down-and-out.
Charles Wyrick plays with the band Stella.