In a Brooklyn subway station one April morning, as commuters waited for a G prepare, a 44-year-old man named Daniel Auster was discovered unconscious on a platform after a drug overdose. He was delivered to the Brooklyn Hospital Center, the place he died six days later, after being taken off life assist.
A D.J. and photographer who had lengthy struggled with habit, Mr. Auster was the son of the writers Paul Auster and Lydia Davis, and the stepson of the novelist Siri Hustvedt, making him a baby of New York literary royalty. Eleven days earlier than his demise, he had been charged within the demise of his 10-month-old daughter, Ruby.
Ruby had died on Nov. 1, 2021, whereas in his care. Mr. Auster’s spouse, a 26-year-old graphic designer named Zuzan Smith, informed the police that the child was awake and in good well being that morning when she left their residence on Bergen Street in Brooklyn. In a deposition, Mr. Auster mentioned he had injected himself with heroin earlier than taking a nap beside his daughter. When he awoke, he discovered that Ruby was “blue, lifeless and unresponsive,” in accordance with a police report.
He tried administering Narcan, a drug used to deal with opioid overdoses, to revive her earlier than calling 911. Ruby was pronounced useless on the close by NewYork-Presbyterian-Brooklyn Methodist Hospital. The explanation for her demise was acute intoxication of heroin and fentanyl. Law enforcement officers haven’t commented on how she ingested the medication.
Four months later, in mid-April, the medical expert declared Ruby’s demise a murder. Mr. Auster was arrested and arraigned on fees of manslaughter, criminally negligent murder and endangering the welfare of a kid. A Daily Mail video reveals him shuffling right into a van sporting handcuffs, as a reporter shouts: “Daniel, did you kill the baby? Did you kill the baby, Daniel?” On April 20, hours after he was launched from Rikers on bail, he was discovered within the Clinton Hill subway station.
His household remained silent as tabloid photographers staked out the Auster-Hustvedt brownstone in Park Slope. Mr. Auster, 75, and Ms. Hustvedt, 67, declined requests to be interviewed for this text. (“We have absolutely nothing to say about this,” Ms. Hustvedt mentioned.) Ms. Davis, who’s 75 and lives in Rensselaer County, N.Y., additionally declined to remark when reached by telephone. Ms. Smith couldn’t be reached for remark.
This was not the primary time members of the family had confronted uncomfortable questions on Daniel, who performed an element in two New York tales. One was legal, centered on probably the most infamous homicide in Nineties downtown nightlife. The different was literary, enjoying out slowly in books written by his father and stepmother, who reckoned along with his struggles on the web page.
A Clubland Murder
As a teen, Daniel Auster was immersed within the membership child scene that thrived at rave meccas like Limelight and the Tunnel. He was current in a Hell’s Kitchen residence when the drug vendor Andre Melendez was murdered by the celebration promoter Michael Alig and his roommate, Robert Riggs.
Daniel, 18 on the time, was mentioned to have been handed out throughout the homicide, however the exact nature of his actions stays unknown, and the incident solid a shadow that adopted him all through his life. His hyperlink to the crime was step by step forgotten, however his arrest and demise resurfaced hypothesis that his final identify might have gained him leniency with the legislation.
He was a misfit member of the membership children, a band of downtown personalities who created an underground nightlife universe on the Limelight, a membership housed in an previous stone church in Chelsea. They partied in glitter and platform heels, and so they carried youngsters’s lunchboxes full of ecstasy.
A prodigal son of brownstone Brooklyn, Daniel attended the Packer Collegiate non-public college and was raised in a bookish milieu. Paul Auster, whose associates included the novelists Salman Rushdie and Don DeLillo, was then on the top of his literary superstar. When he wrote the 1995 film “Smoke,” Daniel was solid in a bit half as a thief who shares a scene with Harvey Keitel.
By night time, he raved on the Limelight beneath cage dancers, usually carrying a paperback of “American Psycho” by Bret Easton Ellis. He quickly fell below the sway of Mr. Alig, the membership child ringleader from suburban Indiana. As Mr. Alig reigned over the Limelight, and threw lawless events in vehicles and subway stations, youngsters flocked to his chaotic utopia.
“Daniel was a wild child,” mentioned James St. James, a former membership child who wrote the 1999 memoir “Disco Bloodbath: A Fabulous but True Tale of Murder in Clubland.” “When he and Michael met, they were at a rave, and Michael ran over to me and said, ‘I’ve just met the love of my life.’ Then he dragged this boy over. They were inseparable after that. They became a couple from hell.”
“We all knew who Daniel was,” he continued. “It became this joke that Paul Auster had a kid from ‘The Omen’ on his hands.”
The scene modified when meth and ketamine changed ecstasy, and Mr. Alig received hooked on heroin. It was in opposition to this backdrop that Daniel discovered himself at Mr. Alig’s Hell’s Kitchen residence on March 17, 1996. What occurred subsequent has been informed with variations, however that is the commonly accepted account.
Mr. Alig’s drug use had resulted in a hefty debt to Mr. Melendez, a membership child often known as “Angel” for his behavior of sporting big feathered wings. Mr. Melendez went to the residence to gather his cash, however the two males received right into a struggle. Soon, Mr. Riggs entered the fray, bludgeoning Mr. Melendez’s head with a hammer. Mr. Alig then suffocated Mr. Melendez earlier than pouring Drano down his throat and sealing his mouth with duct tape.
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The useless man was positioned in a tub, the place he decomposed for days on ice whereas Mr. Alig continued partying with associates. Finally, he dismembered the physique in a heroin haze whereas Mr. Riggs spritzed Calvin Klein Eternity over the corpse to masks its odor. Then the boys dumped the physique into the Hudson River. They reportedly gave Daniel, who was utilizing medication within the residence, $3,000 of Mr. Melendez’s cash in change for his silence.
As rumors of Mr. Melendez’s disappearance started to unfold, Michael Musto, the nightlife columnist at The Village Voice, wrote a blind merchandise suggesting that Mr. Alig had killed him. A mutilated torso washed up on Staten Island, and Mr. Alig and Mr. Riggs have been arrested that winter.
After pleading responsible to first-degree manslaughter, Mr. Alig spent 17 years in jail and Mr. Riggs served 13. Daniel pleaded responsible to possession of stolen property with the promise of a five-year probation. He didn’t testify in courtroom. In the crime’s aftermath, police cracked down on medication in golf equipment, and a federal investigation focused Peter Gatien, the eye-patch-wearing mogul who owned the Limelight, successfully ending an period of New York nightlife.
Mr. Riggs mentioned at his sentencing: “What I am certain is that all of us involved, myself, Michael Alig, Daniel Auster and Angel Melendez, are victims of the same hideous evil, whose name is drugs.”
As the crime entered New York lore, the Limelight was transformed right into a David Barton Gym and the homicide turned fodder for true-crime books and flicks, notably “Party Monster,” which starred Chloë Sevigny and Macaulay Culkin. Daniel turned the hardly ever talked about fourth man within the residence, one who didn’t seem in the most well-liked retellings.
“After Daniel’s death, conversation about this thing that happened so long ago flared up again,” Mr. Musto mentioned. “All these theories about why he wasn’t charged had always existed. If he knew more, why didn’t he come forward? Why did he fade from view and not have to testify?”
“I always wondered about him over the years,” he added. “He was an enigma.”
In his 2003 e book, “Clubland: The Fabulous Rise and Murderous Fall of Club Culture,” the journalist Frank Owen revealed the idea that the highly effective district lawyer Robert Morgenthau, who died in 2019 at 99, didn’t pursue Daniel on extra critical fees as a result of his precedence was to carry down Mr. Gatien, and since he was pleasant along with his father.
“After the slaying,” Mr. Owen wrote, “Auster had been whisked out of the city by his father to a secret location. Paul Auster then contacted a family friend, who happened to be Manhattan district attorney Robert Morgenthau. Morgenthau had a reputation for treating celebrities with kid gloves.”
Soon after Mr. Alig was launched in 2014, he gave contemporary particulars in regards to the crime to The New York Post: “Me and Daniel Auster and Riggs all piled on Angel,” he mentioned within the interview. “I smashed into his face to try to push him down. I either did it for too long or had more strength than I realized or maybe it was a combination of us sitting on top of him and he couldn’t breathe or whatever it was, he just stopped writhing.”
Mr. Alig, who was then virtually 50, tried to reclaim his former glory as a nightlife promoter, however the homicide’s specter adopted him in a vastly modified metropolis. He died of a drug overdose on Christmas Eve in 2020. Mr. Riggs entered academia after his launch in 2010 and averted the media highlight.
In the wake of Daniel’s demise, former membership children started reconnecting to debate the previous, and a few mirrored that Ruby’s demise represented but yet one more consequence of the period’s excesses.
“For years after Angel’s murder I thought, ‘Maybe this is all over,’” mentioned Ernie Glam, who went on to be a newspaper reporter in Westchester County. “But the deaths of Michael Alig and now Daniel Auster and his daughter show that it’s not over. Addiction is never over. I don’t think of Daniel as a monster but as an addict who was a really sick person that needed help.”
Sidney Prawatyotin, who appeared within the 1995 film “Kids” and have become a graphic artist, was teenage associates with Daniel within the Limelight years.
“When we hung out, I always felt like Daniel was looking for a family,” Mr. Prawatyotin mentioned. “I thought of him as a boy without a family. Like he was lost. He enjoyed doing normal things with me, like watching movies all night. At my parents’ place on the Upper West Side, he always liked spending time with my mom and hanging out with her. I think he eventually found family in the clubs, but then it got out of control for him.”
Captured on the Page
The second New York story that Daniel Auster was linked to started enjoying out on the web page shortly after his start in 1977.
For years, he offered artistic gasoline for his father, who depicted him in a number of books till he pale from his writings.
After the Melendez homicide, Ms. Hustvedt, his stepmother, revealed a novel that featured a teenage addict who turns into concerned in a killing strikingly just like the real-life crime.
Ms. Davis, his mom, has examined virtually each aspect of unusual life, together with parenthood, in numerous brief tales and essays, however she has averted together with a personality who resembles Daniel in her work.
The first literary portrayal of Daniel got here in 1982, when he appeared as a baby in“The Invention of Solitude,” a memoir by his father. The e book explores Mr. Auster’s strained relationship along with his father, with Daniel serving as a Proustian car for the creator’s self-discovery. It heralded Mr. Auster’s arrival as a daring postmodern voice in American letters, and the theme of the absent father and the looking out son would recur all through his work.
Mr. Auster wrote the memoir throughout a bleak interval. He and Ms. Davis — who met as undergraduates at Columbia and Barnard College earlier than dwelling collectively as translators within the South of France — had separated after 4 years of marriage, and his father had simply died. While Mr. Auster and Ms. Davis took turns elevating Daniel, Mr. Auster moved right into a tiny workplace on Varick Street in Lower Manhattan, the place he wrote in isolation.
The e book is stuffed with impressions of Daniel’s childhood, notably Mr. Auster studying Carlo Collodi’s “The Adventures of Pinocchio” to him at bedtime: “For the little boy to see Pinocchio, that same foolish puppet who has stumbled his way from one misfortune to the next, who has wanted to be ‘good’ and could not help being ‘bad,’ for this same incompetent little marionette, who is not even a real boy, to become a figure of redemption, the very being who saves his father from the grip of death, is a sublime moment of revelation.”
He provides: “The son saves the father.”
Mr. Auster’s breakthrough work, “The New York Trilogy,” revealed in 1987, established him as a fiction author. One of its three novellas, “City of Glass,” features a author named Paul Auster who’s married to a girl named Siri and has a delicate son named Daniel.
The depiction of the son character was markedly completely different in 2003, when Mr. Auster revealed “Oracle Night,” a novel that includes an acclaimed Brooklyn author with the surname Trause (an anagram of Auster), the daddy of a violent addict named Jacob whom he finally disinherits. Nearly a decade later, within the 2012 memoir “Winter Journal,” which describes the dissolution of his marriage, the creator barely refers to his son.
Mr. Auster met Ms. Hustvedt at a poetry studying a couple of years after his separation from Ms. Davis. They have been married within the early Eighties and settled in Park Slope. Ms. Davis moved to the neighborhood to make it simpler for Daniel to shuttle.
Over the subsequent decade, Mr. Auster and Ms. Hustvedt turned main figures of literary Brooklyn. Articles famous the heat of the writerly family, together with a 1995 profile in The New York Times, through which Mr. Auster expressed delight at receiving a postcard from Daniel, who was on an Outward Bound program in Maine. The subsequent yr, Daniel was making pilgrimages to the Limelight.
In 2003, Ms. Hustvedt revealed “What I Loved,” an acclaimed novel that attracted scrutiny for showing to borrow closely from actuality. The e book’s second half focuses on a boy named Mark who grows right into a deceitful teenage addict and clubgoer. He torments his father, Bill, and intimidates his stepmother, Violet. He additionally turns into intimately concerned with a nightlife determine who’s arrested for the homicide of a drug vendor named Rafael Hernandez.
“Violet had long suspected that Mark hadn’t told the full truth about the murder,” Ms. Hustvedt writes. “Mark had fooled him, the way he had fooled us all.”
Of the e book’s father and son, Ms. Hustvedt writes: “Bill loved his changeling child. His blank son, his Ghosty Boy. He loved the boy-man who is still roaming from city to city and is still reaching into this traveling bag to find a face to wear and a voice to use.”
The journalist Joe Hagan analyzed the overlaps of truth and fiction for The New York Observer. Writing in Slate, the critic Katie Roiphe defended Ms. Hustvedt and criticized the Observer article as “pernicious” for its “implication that there is something unnatural about Hustvedt for exposing her family to the reading public.” In 2006, when requested by The Guardian if the novel had borrowed from actual life, Ms. Hustvedt mentioned: “I’m not going to talk about any of that.”
Ms. Davis married an summary painter, Alan Cote, after her divorce from Mr. Auster. She started educating at Bard College and produced translations of Proust and Flaubert. In 1995, when Daniel was 17, she gave him the possibility to make use of her as materials: The creator picture for her novel, “The End of the Story,” through which she smiles simply on the digicam, bears the credit score “by Daniel Auster.”
A brand new wave of appreciation for her physique of labor got here on the time of the publication of “The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis” in 2009. Five years later, she revealed a narrative assortment, “Can’t and Won’t,” which she devoted, partially, to Daniel.
In a 2014 profile of Ms. Davis in The New Yorker, Dana Goodyear homed in on “Selfish,” one in all Ms. Davis’s tales about parenthood: “That story, with its shifting sense of culpability, is the closest Davis comes to describing her struggles with Daniel,” Ms. Goodyear wrote.
The article additionally described how Ms. Davis as soon as requested Daniel for his recommendation on a brief story that included an unkind element about her personal mom, who was nonetheless alive on the time. He advisable that she take away the element to spare his grandmother’s emotions, and Ms. Davis adopted her son’s counsel.
When Ms. Goodyear requested her in regards to the custom of lifting from actuality to jot down fiction, Ms. Davis replied: “It’s a shock to see yourself depicted in someone’s writing, even if it’s not particularly negative. It’s a matter of being taken away and used.”
“Hurting children is where I would draw the line,” she mentioned. “Children are off-limits.”
In 1998, not lengthy after the beginning of his probation, Daniel attended a screening of “Party Monster: The Shockumentary,” a documentary about Mr. Alig and the Melendez homicide. His presence got here as a shock to different membership children who have been there that night time. Approached by a Page Six reporter after the screening, he mentioned he was “going away” and “wouldn’t be reachable all summer.” Daniel then pale from public view.
In his 20s, he grappled with habit and studied images on the State University of New York, Purchase, creating portfolios heavy on noirish New York City streetscapes. During class sooner or later, when a trainer referred to the film “Smoke,” Daniel raised his hand and mentioned he had acted within the movie, including that Mr. Auster was his father.
“He didn’t talk about his past, but I eventually learned he’d had a tumultuous one,” recalled Matt Licari, a fellow images scholar at SUNY Purchase. “It seemed like school was meant to be a new start for him.”
“He had a reputation for disappearing,” Mr. Licari continued, “but there’s no question that Dan was a great photographer. It was sensitive work. I still recall one picture he took of a priest watching a burning building. After graduating I remember he started taking pictures of lost gloves around the city.”
After faculty, Daniel started working at A-1 Record Shop within the East Village and gigging as a D.J. specializing in home music at Le Poisson Rouge and elsewhere. He revealed his road pictures in New York Press, an alt-weekly paper. A black-and-white image of his was used as the quilt artwork for “A Mown Lawn,” a slim chapbook by his mom.
Announcing himself with a private web site that highlighted his pictures, he wrote on its About Me web page: “I grew up in the wonderful borough of Brooklyn in New York City. My first camera (a Pentax K-1000) was given to me at age 11 and I’ve been photographing ever since. People watching was a hobby I acquired early on in life, so this translated naturally into photography becoming an obsession of mine, with an emphasis on people, my favorite subject matter.”
He was arrested a number of occasions all through his 30s, together with two fees for drug possession and one for petit larceny.
At the identical time, his half siblings prospered. Theo Cote, the son of Ms. Davis and her second husband, established himself as a videographer and photographer. Sophie Auster, the daughter of Mr. Auster and Ms. Hustvedt, turned a mannequin and singer-songwriter. Her debut album, which she recorded in highschool and launched on a small French label, options songs written by her father, who solid her in two films he directed, “The Inner Life of Martin Frost” and “Lulu on the Bridge.” She additionally appeared on the quilt of French Elle along with her mom.
In a 2002 interview with The Guardian, Paul Auster gave what seems to be his solely on-the-record remark about his son: “He is currently finding himself — ask me again in a couple of years.”
In 2013, a yr after the publication of Mr. Auster’s memoir “Winter Journal,” Tal Gafny, then a graduate scholar in superb arts at Virginia Commonwealth University, despatched Daniel a message on Facebook. An avid fan of Paul Auster, Ms. Gafny mentioned she had discovered herself questioning why Daniel was largely lacking from the current memoir’s pages. Weeks later, Daniel replied to her. It was the beginning of a correspondence that Ms. Gafny would come with in “Finding and Losing Daniel Auster,” a chapter of her dissertation.
In their exchanges, they shared their struggles about having divorced dad and mom and fractured childhoods. Daniel finally confided that he had seen his absence from “Winter Journal.”
“We made a mutual discovery of having a similar internal void,” Ms. Gafny wrote in her dissertation. “The empty space we both carry became the focal point of our encounter. I was hoping that we could use this as a starting point for a collaboration.”
They agreed to satisfy in New York.
“I’ve never met someone before like this, not knowing them at all, but I’m fully ready to take a chance and see you,” Daniel wrote to her. “I’ve experienced much pain in my life, but much joy too.”
When Ms. Gafny arrived, he abruptly canceled.
“He wrote me saying, ‘I’m not going to be able to make it,’” she mentioned in an interview. “The reason was he’d had some kind of relapse. He said he was sorry and needed to concentrate on himself.”
She saved writing Daniel however by no means heard from him once more.
Over the final decade, Daniel posted pictures that supplied a tough chronicle of his life: his father’s handbook Olympia typewriter in Brooklyn; a girl in sun shades exterior a San Francisco methadone clinic; youngsters enjoying soccer in Morocco; stray cats in Spain. Along the best way, whereas immersed in Berlin’s rave scene, he grew near a younger artist named Zuzan Smith.
Last summer time — eight months after the start of their daughter — they have been married on a ship in a Berlin canal. Daniel cradled Ruby as Ms. Smith stood beside him sporting an emerald inexperienced costume and veil. A good friend officiating the ceremony recounted how she moved to the United States to be with Daniel and how the couple had emerged from pandemic lockdown with a baby. After the change of vows, Daniel’s half brother raised a toast, and somebody learn phrases of knowledge despatched alongside by Ms. Davis, who was watching the ceremony on-line from New York.
The younger household moved right into a small residence in Park Slope, not removed from Paul Auster’s brownstone. Daniel learn bedtime tales to his daughter and took her for strolls across the neighborhood. In a photograph taken for her first Halloween, the household is dressed up as characters from “The Wizard of Oz” — Daniel because the Tin Man, Zuzan as Dorothy and Ruby because the Cowardly Lion. Later that fall, neighbors seen a jumble of toys and child garments on the Bergen Street sidewalk.
Kirsten Noyes contributed analysis.