Mr. Bones is the canine hero.  Willy is a brilliant but troubled homeless man. Together they embark on a epic quest.  This is Paul Auster’s “Timbuktu”

by JIM SHEPARD

At least since Alexander Pope, literature has been drafting dogs into service as metaphysical guides: ”I am his Highness’ Dog at Kew; / Pray tell me Sir, whose Dog are you?” The protagonist of Paul Auster’s latest novel, ”Timbuktu,” may be a ”hodgepodge of genetic strains” who’s all burrs and bad smells, with a ”perpetual bloodshot sadness lurking in his eyes,” but he carries on that tradition. Unable to speak (though he can passably render the anapest of his three-syllable name: ”woof woof woof”), Mr. Bones opens the novel in a state of near-pure ontological terror, mostly because Willy G. Christmas, the homeless man who has been his boon companion and spiritual adviser, isn’t long for this world, and in such a case, what’s a poor dog to do? ”Every thought, every memory, every particle of the earth and air was saturated with Willy’s presence. . . . Subtract Willy from the world, and the odds were that the world itself would cease to exist.”

Together Willy and Mr. Bones have walked to Baltimore from Brooklyn in the hopes of persuading Willy’s high school English teacher, out of touch for 17 years, to provide a new home for Mr. Bones and become the literary executor of Willy’s lifework: 74 notebooks crammed into a locker at the bus terminal. Willy considers himself an ”outlaw poet prowling the gutters of a ruined world.” Primed by a lifetime of voluntarily ingesting ”enough toxic confections to fill a dump site in the Jersey Meadowlands,” he experienced, years earlier, a mystical encounter with blessedness in the form of a television Santa excoriating him and exhorting him to goodness, as if in a Beat version of ”A Christmas Carol.” Since then, he’s been trying to make the world a better place, with Mr. Bones as sidekick.

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(NY TIMES  6.20.99)