Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Telegraph Avenue

by Michael Chabon

I'm almost ashamed to admit this, but I really didn't care for Chabon's latest book Telegraph Avenue. I feel embarrassed because I know I'm part of a very small minority with my opinion and I feel like the problem must somehow lie with me.

First let me say that Chabon is an excellent writer. I've enjoyed the other half a dozen or so books by him I've read, especially The Amazing Adventures of Kavelier & Clay which won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize, and The Yiddish Policemen's Union, which won numerous awards, including the Hugo and Nebula awards. So it's not that I don''t like his writing, which I'll admit, with Chabon's monstrous vocabulary, and seemingly intentional efforts to entertain himself by seeing how far he can stretch his readers' acceptance of what should be allowed with the written word (in this one he wrote a sentence that was 12 pages long) isn't for everyone.

Maybe it was his characters in this one and their lack of appeal to me that would explain my ambivalence with the book. Whatever the case is, to those who really liked the book and who believe Chabon can do no wrong, I apologize, I just didn't get this one. To those who haven't read the book, but who plan to, good luck. I wish you well.

The story takes place in the Berkeley/Oakland area in 2004. The livelihoods of two friends and used record store owners, Archy Stallings and Nat Jaffe are threatened with the announcement of a huge mega-music store owned by an ex-NFL star that is planning to open down the street along Telegraph Avenue. Archy's very life is at risk as well when his pregnant wife Gwenn discovers his recent infidelities. Gwen and Nat's wife Aviva, who work together as midwives, likewise face a threat to their careers when a problematic delivery leads to a heated confrontation with a racist doctor at a nearby hospital and a moment of poor judgement for Gwen.

To further complicate the lives of Archy and Gwen, Archy's illegitimate 14-year old son Titus, whom Archy has never informed Gwen of his existence, shows up and wants to live with them--and falls madly in love with Nat's gay son Julius. I'll admit I enjoyed the parts of the story that focused on Archy's own father, a retired blaxploitation kung fu movie star who plans to make a comeback now that he's clean and sober. The rest of the book . . . not so much.

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

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