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No one is left alive and no documentation remains to corroborate the surreal story of David Zimmer’s second life—Paul Auster’s latest novel, The Book of Illusions, offers an enduring sense of mystery. Two tales intertwined, Auster’s comic tragedy deals with the would-be deaths of Zimmer, a Reagan-era college-prof-turned-drunk, pre-Depression silent film star Hector Mann, and their separate, yet converging, re-emergence. “Everyone thought he was dead,” the book begins, referring to Mann. But the same could be said of Zimmer, who is essentially dead to the world after his wife and kids die in a plane crash. Self-isolated, Zimmer wallows in an inebriated depression until a lone laugh suddenly snaps him out of it. The giggle is triggered by an old movie clip featuring Mann, who vanished in 1929. Zimmer becomes obsessed with the mustachioed funnyman’s charisma, traveling far and wide to watch his rare films. Then, after publishing a book on Mann’s work, Zimmer gets a letter from a woman claiming to be Mann’s wife, inviting Zimmer to visit the aging actor at his New Mexico ranch. Zimmer is initially skeptical but is convinced at gunpoint to change his mind. From there, Zimmer learns what happened to Mann: how he went into hiding after his lover’s murder, acted in live sex shows, and eventually began making movies again with the bizarre intention of destroying them before anyone could see them. The labyrinthlike plot keeps twisting until the final page, so hope that Auster doesn’t spoil the ending at 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 13, at Olsson’s Books & Records, 1200 F St. NW. Free. (202) 347-3686. (Chris Shott)