Highly disappointing. After The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay I had a fairly sizable appreciation, goodwill and interest towards Michael Chabon, and didn’t wait long before obtaining another of his works. This novel, however, was rather weak, failing to make any of the same sense of wonder, energy or interest. Rather it shows the over-familiar formula of an author struggling with writer’s block and the process of writng. He also has a pattern of serial infidelity and assorted dysfunctional relationship.
I have to ask why. Why does Chabon expect me to be invested in the story, when he makes the character unlikeable and overly bound to archetypes? When he uses main elements already done before, and done more imaginatively? What was the mental process that lead to such a bland setup and underwhelming narrative? The meta element common to Chabon’s other writing reappears, then, but in a far less unique or interesting format. Perhaps the most encouraging thing about this work’s failure is that it occured earlier in Chabon’s career, and perhaps it reflects an ongoing process of refinement for his literary direction. It’s still a poor choice, and it makes me more skeptical about the wider literary investmnet. I don’t think this is the same case as Number9Dream, where I couldn’t disengage my perception from the shadow of Mitchell’s earlier success but it was still a competent work. Here, there are real and fundamental problems.
It’s not entirely a bad book, being engaging enough to go through and having a number of amusing incidents. On the whole, however, it delivers a very limited amount of insight, and the more one moves from individual lines and scenes, the emptier and less compeling the experiment seems. By all means an author can give us nothing but failrues for characters, throw the environment into despair, destroy the whoel world with their imagination. There needs to be more point to it than the kind of liftless failure Chabon offers up here.
Worse than: The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon
Better than: Secret Son by Laila Lalami