REPORT FROM THE INTERIORPaul Auster Faber, 352pp, $27.99 Reading Paul Auster's fiction has never been satisfying, in my experience, but I put my dislike of the acclaimed New Jersey author's novels - when his post-modern parlour games failed to enthral, say, or his cheesy tough-guy dialogue made me smirk - down to inexplicable blind spots in my discernment. Then, earlier this year, I read an essay by the critic, James Wood, titled Paul Auster's Shallowness - one of the most rigorous take-downs of an author I've read - and my allergy to Auster suddenly felt better diagnosed. Wood gave Auster both barrels, and then some. He called his dialogue ''bogus'', his plots ''almost always ridiculous'', his treatment of cliche as ''doing nothing with cliche except use it''. His ''pleasing, slightly facile books come out almost every year'', he wrote, ''as tidy and punctual as postage stamps … applauding reviewers line up like eager collectors to get the latest issue''. So, how to come to Auster's new work of autobiography without Wood's assault ruining a potentially beautiful experience? Fairly easily, it turns out; the good, the bad, and the execrable in Auster were more clearly discernible after Wood's critique. Report from the Interior consists of four discontiguous parts: Auster's early childhood; a blow-by-blow plot recall, with lo-fi exegesis, of two B-grade films (1957's The Incredible Shrinking Man and 1932's I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang); Auster's 1960s letters to his bride-to-be, the writer Lydia Davis; and an album of 60-plus photos, most film stills with jaunty captions. In the text-based chapters (the strangest being the film summaries), light sprinklings of vivid ideas and phrases heighten otherwise plodding tales of being alive in mid-century US. Raised in an insular, Jewish, non-bookish, New Jersey family, ''a little world inside the big world, which was the entire world for you back then, since the big world was not yet visible'', Auster jnr watches a lot of television, heads to the cinema, obsesses about baseball and begins to write poetry or, rather, ''ekes out … miserable verses''. (Auster snr appears to be infatuated with the memory of Auster jnr, but tries to hide this with a retrospective dusting of mockery.) ''The only noise from the zeitgeist loud enough for you to hear,'' he writes later, about adolescence, ''was the bass drum sounding the alarm that the Communists were out to destroy America.'' But his education about his country's epic hubristic failures and myopia is rendered, mostly unremarked upon, in the epistolary section, ''Time Capsule''. The section suffers from being too many degrees from lived experience. ''Drunken drivel,'' Auster apologises in one, about a night crisis. ''I become very witty at times. You'd like that.'' Yes, we would, but sadly the humour is only hearsay. The biggest obstacle to intimacy, however, is his use of the second-person voice - as in, ''you wrote your first poem … a wretched piece of dried-out snot'' - presumably to disrupt the solipsism of memoir writing. But it dislocates readers, placing them somewhere between being amiably lectured and, at the harder end, hearing charges as a co-accused. It inspires a prolonged, and often drowsy, non-commitment, and that only abates after nearly 200 pages, when the energised, wholly declarative, first-person voice arrives in the form of the Auster-Davis correspondence. Perhaps it's the over-familiar territory of 20th-century US history - which Auster adds little to here - that generates such torpor. When he writes about the propaganda that smothered his youth, that ''Americans were industrious and clever, the most inventive people on the earth'' and that ''America was perfect … had won the war and was in charge of the world'', there's a sense that he's as tired writing about that as we are of hearing it. In one of his best letters, he reports on a burlesque show he sees in a 42nd Street dive. ''There is nothing so depressing as to watch an uninspired stripper,'' he writes. ''The good ones, on the other hand, are a pleasure to observe. Nothing can stop the richness of their souls from coming to the surface.'' The very same, of course, could be said of the memoirist.