Thursday, February 07, 2013

Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon

There is little I can add to the voluminous praise for Michael Chabon's latest novel, Telegraph Avenue.  It is a brilliant work that stands alongside the best of the author's canon.   However, since I am one to offer my two cents even when not asked, a few observations:

  • As I've stated many times, I'm a sucker for a story of fathers and sons so with Telegraph Avenue, it seems I've hit the motherlode.  There are fathers and sons, fatherless sons, sons and sons, adopted fathers and sons, and men who fit the description "he was like a father to me".  Good fathers, bad fathers, reluctant fathers, confused fathers.  Yearning sons, angry sons, naive sons, and sons you expect to start belting out "Papa, Can You Here Me?".  Actually, damn near any of the male characters might.  Chabon writes at great length about what masculinity comprises but also never fails to show the many, many facets that co-exist within each person.  I think what the author tries to get at in the heads and hearts of his characters is less what it means to 'be a man' and all its attendant failures but what it means to "be a mensch".  (You can look that up if you need.)  That said, I believe his female characters (there are three) are better men than most of the male characters. 
  • For the first time since 1999's Werewolves In Their Youth, the story is set in the present day.  Works like Kavalier & Clay and Yiddish Policeman were thick with history and Chabon loves to delve into the details so I wondered if I would be left wanting without the historical elements the author loves to brandish like a scimitar (see Gentlemen of the Road).  Not to worry.  If anything, Telegraph Avenue allows Chabon to indulge his vast knowledge of jazz, blaxploitation films and other pop culture without being too showy or hipper-than-thou.  Let's face it--the man loves minutiae.  Because of him, I know what phosphenes are.  You can look that up, too.
  • A friend told me she thinks Chabon loves his characters.  While I'd never considered it in those terms, she's right and that was evident throughout Telegraph Avenue.  There are few writers who can create characters more vivid than Chabon and while we don't always love these characters completely, I believe it's because we aren't meant to.  Instead, we root for them and know, deep down, they will do the best they can despite their limitations, which are often in abundance.  Sound like anyone you know?  Sounds like EVERYONE I know and that is among the reasons this book is such a success.  
  • Do not be intimidated by his reputation, by the page count, or the fact that his work is regarded as "important".  Just read it.  You will have to commit to it to a degree as there are a lot of characters and a great deal going on, mostly all at once, but the reward is great as is the author's ability to transfix us, transform us, and transport us.  

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Chabon? New? Now look at the things I miss :) I read one of his books cos my friend LOVED that book. Something fantastical adventure.

Irene (Eureka Joe's)