Throughout City of Glass there is a constant struggle between Quinn’s desire to be lost versus his incessant search for meaning. While the two seem to be contradictory, they actually tie together during the Stillman case, which Quinn feels is his key to leaving his tragic past behind. By assuming the identity of Paul Auster, he is able to once and for all make Daniel Quinn vanish from the earth. After the death of his wife and son, Quinn loses his sense of purpose in the world, wanting to distance himself from everything that encompasses it. He wanders the streets of New York wanting more than anything to “feel that he was nowhere” (4), both unidentifiable to his surroundings and unable to recognize them in return. This ideal state, however, is not initially possible for Quinn to achieve. Even after all of his attempts at secluding himself (losing all of his friends, changing his author name to William Wilson) the fact of the matter is that Quinn is still a person who cannot be entirely overlooked by others. And for Quinn, this is not good enough.
When he receives the mysterious phone call from Peter Stillman, Quinn jumps on the opportunity to leave his misery behind by taking on the identity of Paul Auster. This seems like the ideal chance to lose Daniel Quinn altogether, making him disappear from the world once and for all. Since he cannot physically evaporate off the Earth, the next best thing is for him to simply make his identity vanish instead. This is where Quinn’s two desires become blurred. From his longing to be lost comes his longing to lose his identity. The only way for him to do this is to assume the role of Paul Auster, which is why Quinn takes the Sillman case so seriously. It is his only chance to obtain his ideal state of nothingness and because of this he is attempting desperately to solve the case. As an author of mystery novels, Quinn looks to Max Work, his key private eye, to aid his real life detective story. He takes to heart his theory of how mystery novels work, with “everything seen or said, even the slightest, most trivial thing, can bear a connection to the outcome of the story” (9).
The red notebook is a physical representation of this idea and an embodiment of his new identity. Right after his initial meeting with Virginia and Peter Stillman, Quinn heads to the store to buy a notepad and has a strange reaction to the one he chooses. The intense feelings he describes are his hidden desire for this little red notebook to help him lose himself. Everything that comes to Quinn’s mind and everything he encounters makes its way into the notebook in the attempt to achieve this goal. He immediately puts down his initial thoughts of Virginia and Peter and starts contemplating his plan of action, ending his entry with a reminder, emphasizing the importance of his new identity. As he trails Stillman as well, Quinn is relentlessly making notes in his notebook, analyzing Stillman’s every move. As things begin to look hopeless after numerous uneventful days, Quinn latches to anything that could keep the case moving forward. He pours over the red notebook until he is able to convince himself that Stillman’s wanderings spell out “The Tower of Babel,” thus keeping the case and his role of Paul Auster alive.
Even after the case is obviously closed due to the death of Stillman, Quinn continues to incessantly record his every thought in the notebook. He still does not believe he has caused the complete evaporation of Daniel Quinn and is trying obsessively to keep the case alive. The red notebook was born with the case and will not cease until Quinn is satisfied with its closure. And closure for him at this point has nothing to do with the safety of Virginia and Peter Stillman. Instead, the lurking desire that was in the background, propelling every single one of Quinn’s actions is the total disappearance of his identity and only when this occurs will the case be complete. The story ends eerily, with the final sentence in the notebook reading “What will happen when there are no more pages in the red notebook?” From this statement, it seems as if there is still room to write, but Quinn has stopped recording his thoughts and actions. It appears as if he has finally considered himself to be lost, completely gone from the Earth. However, the notebook was an ironic choice for such an endeavor, and it is found later by Auster and his friend. This discovery is proof that Daniel Quinn was alive, thus giving him a permanent identity, the complete opposite of what he wanted.