The opening of Paul Auster's Ghosts combines elements of classic American detective fiction with literary originality to create an effective beginning of a post-modernist novel. Cliches in popular pre-modernist narrative form with a highly modernist literary/philosophical approach is juxtaposed the questioning the nature of time and life; this yields a post-modernist overture.
Auster presents the main character, Blue, as the classic American 'tough guy' detective, always suspicious toward everything and everyone. Clearly, the author has been inspired by previous writers of popular genre fiction. Sentences as "Brown broke him in, Brown taught him the ropes, and when Brown grew old, Blue took over" illustrate Auster's well-considered diction and tone in order to achieve the desired hard and boiled atmosphere. Moreover, this quote serves to demonstrate Blue's attitude to his job and his profession. He indicates that his work needs skill and know-how through telling us that he was "taught the ropes" by his teacher Brown. Obviously, it is also a job with continuity since 'back then' he took over from Brown. It is a business, a skilled trade.
Another of these typically American 'tough guy' cliches can be noticed further down the page, "The case seems simple enough". Blue and White are at this point discussing the details of the case in Blue's Office. From watching old Hollywood movies, the reader might imagine a scenario with a dark room, starring two gentlemen in suits and with hats and both holding a Camel or a Lucky Strike between their fingers whilst they each exhale calmly a cloud of smoke, which with difficulty diffuses in the room, since the air is already saturated with it. After White explained all the details of the case, Blue "takes the key [to the apartment] from White. That will eliminate the legwork", Blue says. If this had been a film shot, Blue would most likely be filmed so as to look coolly indifferent and hard here.
As in all popular genre writing, there is always the predictable love aspect. So, of course, "Blue picks up the phone and calls the future Mrs. Blue. I'm going undercover, he tells his sweetheart. Don't worry if I'm out of touch for a little while. I'll be thinking of you the whole time." This banal form of expression, "Sweetheart" and "I'll be thinking of you the whole time", and Blue's cold and unemotional words contribute to his image as the cool urban American detective of the late 1940s.
Auster demonstrates Blue's attitude to work and to life very concisely. "Blue did many tail jobs, and this one seems no different, perhaps easier than most. Blue needs the job so he listens to White and doesn't ask many questions". Indeed, he does not ask many questions and assumes things are predictable - just like the readers of genre fiction. Evidently, Blue has very limited respect for new jobs and feels somewhat self-confident. Auster probably describes him in this manner to create an impression of a man, who believes himself to be strong. This impression, however, gradually declines throughout the book. The author also acquaints the reader with Blue by presenting him as someone rather focused, always knowing where he is going. "..., it's not my problem. The only thing I need to worry about is doing my job." Besides being another of these stereotypical cliches, this sentence describes his indifference to other elements of a case and to life.
The modernist elements of Auster's style are just as, if not more, important as the genre cliches. Auster somehow manages to represent the time in a very strange but interesting way. He states that "The place is New York, the time is the present, and neither one will ever change." Although we are thus told that it is a story and not reality, it seems odd and wrong to delimit the time in this way. By pronouncing that neither of the factors will ever change, we are practically forced to think that time has either stopped, or time is non-existent. However Auster seems to contradict himself later naming the date, "It is February 3, 1947". Until now the reader was assuming that the story, which is a story but with real-life elements, was timeless or definitely playing in the reader's present, some time after 1985 when the book was published. This paradoxical relationship to time is a distinct feature of modernist writing.
There are other abstract stylistic elements in the beginning of Auster's 'Ghosts' as well. Already the first sentence is written in a peculiarly abstract style and expresses an unusual method of describing characters of a book. "First of all there is Blue. Later there is White, and then there is Black, and before the beginning there is Brown". Naming the characters by colors is quite original. At this point, the reader has no other choice than to be extremely surprised, and can only assume that the colors have a deeper meaning. Auster uses the color names consequently throughout the beginning of the book. Strange too is that even "before the beginning" there was Brown, before whose and which beginning is meant? This is one of the most significant modernist features in the opening pages of 'Ghosts'.
Auster also makes use of a rather idiosyncratic sentence which repeats itself several times. "That is how it begins". Now, we must take into account the last part of the first sentence of the book, Auster reminds the reader that "... before the beginning there is Brown". He informs us about something that has happened before the start thus we might assume "that is not how it begins". Despite this, Auster emphasizes the start of the story many times further on in the text. Apart from this being an abstract thought, Auster jogs ones memory that this is a story. Reality does not begin. It is.
Another of these abstract modernist stylistic elements would be that "the address is unimportant. But let's say Brooklyn Heights, for the sake of argument". Since when did the address of the suspect become unimportant in a detective novel? This is the complete opposite of what we so have far considered normal for this type of genre fiction. The reader expects everything to be known by the investigator and by the reader himself. Not to do this is totally 'to break the rules' of writing popular, airport novels. Another indication of Auster's 'Ghosts' not being a pre-modernist, nor a modernist work, but a post-modernist novel in its whole. The combination of pre-modernist and modernist elements produces a post-modernist text.
All in all, Auster's 'Ghosts' is a perfect example of how abstract features can be combined genre fiction cliches to yield a unique post-modernist piece of writing. It is the juxtaposition of the pre-modernist and modernist aspects that generates the post-modernist effect. Auster has a literary and philosophical approach to life and hence emphasizes the original, abstract and modernist elements. Subsequently, he decides to keep the stereotypical cliches about the American tough guy detective, but expands this image with the details of encounter. In the end, a perfect balance between the pre-modernist and the modernist aspects is achieved, and a perfect post-modernist opening of a novel emerges.