The novel City of Glass by Paul Auster begins with the main character, Daniel Quinn, receiving an unexpected phone call in the middle of the night. Quinn answers, and a strange voice asks for Paul Auster, of the Auster detective agency. Quinn tells the caller they have the wrong number.

Quinn writes detective novels under the pen name of William Wilson. The novels feature Max Work, a private investigator. No one knows that Quinn is William Wilson. Quinn used to write under his own name, but then his wife and son died five years ago, and Quinn isolated himself. 

The second night, the phone rings again. He answers the phone only when the caller has already hung up. He decides to wait for the caller on the third night, but several nights pass without Quinn receiving any other phone calls.

The phone rings again and when the caller asks for Paul Auster, Quinn says that he is Paul Auster. The caller says they are in danger and agrees to meet with Quinn the next morning, in an apartment on 69th Street.

When Quinn gets there the next day, he is let in by a woman who introduces herself as Virginia Stillman. She leads Quinn into the living room and tells him her husband will be there shortly. Quinn waits a long time until Virginia Stillman’s husband comes in. He is pale and weak and seems to have a mental illness. He says he is Peter Stillman, but then insists that is not his real name.

Peter does not allow Quinn to ask any questions. Instead, he speaks for a long time. His sentences are disjointed and confusing, often mixed with made-up words. It appears that Peter’s mother died when he was very young, and his father, also named Peter Stillman, kept him locked up and physically abused him. Peter tells Quinn that his father wants to kill him.

After Peter leaves, Virginia gives Quinn more explanations. Peter’s father was a professor at the University of Columbia. He believed that there existed an original language of God, and that children could learn to speak it if they did not hear or speak any other language. Therefore, when Peter was two, six months after his mother died, Stillman locked him in a room and kept him away from all human contact. Whenever Peter tried to use regular words, his father would beat him.

Peter was discovered 9 years after he was locked up. Stillman was arrested as soon as it became clear what he had been doing to his son and then placed in a mental institution. Peter was also placed in an institution where he could be re-educated. Virginia met him there and worked with him as his speech therapist. She married Peter so he could get out of the hospital. 

Virginia adds that Stillman is being released and is arriving at Gran...

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