Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

Michael Chabon

At this point in the reviewing I’ve caught up quite a bit, I’m now covering books that I’ve read weeks ago instead of months. There’s also a feedback loop involved at this point in the writing. When I finally got around to my Moby Dick review and got back on the path of regular commentary I found myself talking about Michael Chabon quite a deal. Partly because writing up my thougts on The Final Soloution made me realize just how much I liked it, partly because for awhile I was comparing a number of other mystery-type works with it and reflecting on the basic talent involved. Under such a context I was finally motivated to read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, a work that had been on my to read list for quite awhile, given the high amount of praise I’ve seen attributed to it, and the way it was generally considered a more succesful take on the Yiddish Policeman’s Union. Having read it, I can concur on both judgements, and was enormously pleased in it as a talented and engrossing piece of writing.

It’s the story of two Jewish immigrants in New York during the early ’40s who start a comic book strip. The story involves their lives up to and after that point, their families, the state of the culture at the time and the specific issues involved with early comic book production. It’s intense, funny, engaging and unique. Most notably, despite all the scnearios I’ve seen of Jewish life in 1940s U.S this narrative manges to make everything feel fresh. It’s above all a thoughtful and respectufl look at the depicted lives that doesn’t slack down on the potential for fun and sheer delight along with tragedy. Also features a psychologically nuanced exploration of minority identity, Jewish, homosexual and other, and makes a rich period piece not limited in application to the time. It’s this book that makes me realize Chabon is definitely an excellent writter, when he’s not undermining his main approach as he does in the Yiddish Policeman’s Union. Chabon also provides a great use of tying mythology to the narrative, in this case the Jewish legends of the golem, in a way that has much of the same appeal as Gaiman’s books. Fundamentally in its portrayal of comic book as a medium Chabon brings in a great deal of intense interest that allows the imagined historic characters an intense freshness and narrative energy.

Often I hedge my praise for books that I really like, indicating that this one should be appealing unless you don’t like this type of analysis, or aren’t found of post-modernism, or don’t like fantasy literature, or don’t tend to embrace elaborate prose. This book I’ll be less cautious: I think most people will enjoy this book and would benefit from reading it. It’s virtues are not remote, and as a text it is not inaccessible. It’s a bit long, but if one is attracted by the first segment it should draw people in readily. It’s a great book that is not in any major way intimidating.

Worse than: The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
Better than: Final Solution: A Story of Detection by Michael Chabon

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