The narrator leaves Westchester to Brooklyn, to die there. He had lived in Brooklyn when he was a little boy (before the age of three), but doesn’t remember anything. He rents an apartment near Prospect Park. He wants nothing but being alone and quiet. He has sold his house after his divorce, and so has no problemwith money. He was an insurance agent, but doesn’t know what to do now.
His daughter Rachel (a researcher in bio-chemistry) comes to visit him and suggests he should “invent a project”. He feels irritated and says he will probably die very soon, which makes Rachel very angry. The narrator admits it was a nasty thing to do, but says he is rather a friendly man (which, according to him, was aquality required by his job; however this job taught him “the dangers of family life”). He doesn’t think he was as bad a father and husband as Rachel claims he was.
In fact, he may not die that soon: we learn that he suffered from a lung cancer, but is in remission. However, he doesn’t trust the doctor very much and thinks his life may have come to an end: that’s why he has decided to move toBrooklyn.
He describes his days during the first weeks in Brooklyn: walks in the neighborhood, often to a book store, Brigthman’s Attic, lunches and dinners in several restaurants. He finally chooses the Cosmic Dinner, because he has fallen in love with a young waitress, Marina. He finds Brooklyn’s inhabitants very talkative.
After having mispronounced a word, he decides to write a book, in order tohave some kind of a goal. The Book of Human Folly is supposed to be a collection of stories all related with absurd events happened to himself or “his fellow human beings”. He wants it to be something funny, and works without any method. He quotes several examples of the stories he writes. He sometimes feels depressed, and also recalls tragic events (for instance the story of Dr. Weinberg’smother).
Role of the chapter.
According to the beginning of the second chapter, “Overture” is supposed to introduce the narrator and “the scene for the story [he is] about to tell”, not its main character. Indeed, as we could expect from the title, we immediately discover the setting, Brooklyn, even before knowing anything about the narrator.
However, we learn quite a lot about the man whois talking, even if we don’t understand immediately what he means when he tells about his death (since he only alludes to his cancer as if by chance). Moreover, we don’t know his name yet: his way of introducing himself is not a conventional one. For instance, he first tells us more about his daughter than about himself.
This is a clue for the way his story will be told: like The Book of HumanFolly, The Brooklyn Follies are supposed to be written by a non-professional, in a rather natural, simple and direct tone. Even if the narrator is familiar with literature (which we will learn in the following chapter), he is not looking for art, and doesn’t seem to take his activity as an author very seriously.
The main pieces of information we get about him are linked with his temper and his wayof considering life. He seems to be a pessimistic, if not cynic man, but his self-portrait is finely-shaded and the reader may find him nice, despite the faults that he is not hiding.
The city (Brooklyn and the analysis of “Brooklynites”)
Loneliness (Here, it is a chosen loneliness: Nathan is even looking for it.)
Family (difficult relationship with Rachel, unhappy marriagewith Edith, divorce, lessons taught from Nathan’s job…: family appears as negative. But the story of Dr. Weinberg’s mother let us guess that it could be contradicted).
Absurdity of life (both to be found in Nathan’s description of his own situation and in the stories he chooses to relate in The Book of Human Follies).
Literature (Writing considered as a simple way to “fill ones time”. There is...