Nick Chapman, January 30, 2013 (view all comments by Nick Chapman)
Brilliant. A tour de force. Recognizably from the author of Kavalier and Clay and Yiddish Policeman's Union, but grounded in the contemporary real world. Particularly in my contemporary real world, as he writes about the area in which I grew up in and still hang out in, and name checks records I owed, donuts I've eaten, even my high school.
But I would love this book even if it didn't have all those powerful connections to my life. It's a moving, complex exploration of relationships: between men and women, before fathers and sons, between friends, between the black and Jewish communities, between people and the neighborhoods they create and inhabit, between men and their pop culture obsessions. Laid out like that, the books interests and engagements have some connection with those of another of my favorite authors, Nick Hornby. But this book is less funny than, say, High Fidelity. While it has moments of genuine humor - I laughed out loud more than once - it also runs very, very deep, and has some real darkness in it. There are endings, and they are for the most part positive, but they aren't really happy endings. This book doesn't tie everything up, it just gets you to the end of its particular journey.
One might make some minor quibbles. I might have like to see the character of Nat fleshed out a bit more, gotten to know him a bit better. Chabon's wives here are much like the women of Yiddish Policeman's Union - their hard resolve, willingness to put up with a lot of shit from the feckless men that they've come to love, their commitment to a vocation. And Gwen does emerge as a very real, fleshed out character. But as with Hornby, women characters do't always seem to have quite the three-dimensional solidity of the men. The plot maybe has a few too many threads. I'd have like to spend more time in Brokeland, listening to people shoot the shit. But these are, like I said, minor quibbles.
What is not minor is the prodigious talent that Chabon unleashes. It's been clear, I think, to most people for a while that he was, and was likely to continue to be, one of America's best novelists. But with Telegraph Avenue, he should have silenced almost any opposition to this view. Rich, densely layered, evocative, with a loose narrative voice that slips easily between jivin' and the sometimes heavily literary voice of his earlier work, summoning up so vividly such an engaging world... Telegraph Avenue is a knockout.
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cooneyct, January 30, 2013 (view all comments by cooneyct)
One of my favorite aspects of Chabon's writing is his sense of humor, and it's on full display here. Also, I'm not aware of many contemporary authors who can craft characters in such an endearing way.
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Bill Higgins, January 30, 2013 (view all comments by Bill Higgins)
This is energetic, rich writing. A wonderful story, contemporary characters and place - and all just nearly believable - and paced to keep the reader entranced. No slow going here - you better reserve all day Saturday to enjoy the whole book! Chabon's best effort yet.
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Since winning the Pulitzer Prize for his spectacular 2000 novel, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Michael Chabon has gone on to write a diverse array of books restrained by neither style nor genre. Of the distinctive qualities to be found within whatever form his versatile storytelling may take is a prose marked by eloquence and vivaciousness, an uncanny ability to immerse his readers within the lives of his characters, and a narrative structure propelled mainly by his imaginative plots. All of these strengths are on full display in Telegraph Avenue, Chabon's resonant new novel and his most mature, accessible fiction to date.
Its genesis an unproduced television pilot he wrote over a decade ago, Telegraph Avenue is an engrossing, well-crafted drama of family and friendship. Set during the summer of 2004 in both Oakland and Berkeley (where Chabon himself has resided for the last 15 years), the novel focuses on the intertwined lives and ensuing hardships of two East Bay families. Archy Stallings and Nat Jaffe are best friends and coproprietors of Brokeland Records, a used vinyl record shop whose continued existence is threatened by plans for a nearby megastore helmed by a wealthy, former NFL quarterback. Their spouses, Gwen Shanks and Aviva Roth-Jaffe, are popular midwives, but both their friendship and their livelihoods become jeopardized following a delivery that quite nearly turns tragic.
As with much of Chabon's fiction, a rich cast of supporting characters and interwoven subplots lend the novel a vibrant breadth. Julius, Nat, and Aviva's 14-year-old boy, an ardent film enthusiast, falls in love with Titus, Archy's long-unacknowledged teenaged son. Luther, Archy's father, is a former kung fu and blaxploitation movie star whose delinquent past and scheming present ensnares the lives of everyone close to him. When community members rally against the proposed megastore, friendships are tested, motivations are questioned, and allegiances are revealed.
Telegraph Avenue, perhaps Chabon's strongest and most complete effort to date, is a sonorous, sweeping portrait of a contemporary American neighborhood (inspired, somewhat, by his own childhood spent partially in Columbia, Maryland — a planned community that sought to eliminate the racial and economical divisions that stunt so many modern metropolises). Chabon's incorporation of a racial element into this novel (of the four leading characters, two are black and the others white), in addition to being a brave decision, serves not as the banal, forced multiculturalism and feel-good liberalism that would likely have come across as mere stereotype in less-adept hands, but instead as a perceptive, faithful portrayal of life in the 21st-century American city. Chabon's compassion and sympathy for his subjects translates into lifelike, relatable characters that struggle with many of the same adversities, frustrated aspirations, and need for perseverance as anyone in the real world.
Throughout Telegraph Avenue, Chabon makes clever, playful use of jazz, soul, and vinyl-related imagery and metaphor, beginning with the touching dedication to his wife. Many of the thematic elements that have so distinguished Chabon's previous works are conveyed anew and will be warmly familiar to his longtime readers. Peppered throughout the novel like a recurrent bass groove are moments of delightfully unexpected and potent humor that act as a welcome complement to its rhythm of crescendoing drama. Michael Chabon's storytelling gifts seem to know no bounds, and the dexterity with which he crafts his beautiful prose is often breathtaking. The book's third chapter, composed of a single, 12-page sentence, is magnificently rendered and acts as a testament to Chabon's remarkable literary prowess. Telegraph Avenue is indeed an exceptional novel, one demonstrative of the considerable talent Chabon brings to nearly everything he composes.
"Publishers Weekly Review"
by Publishers Weekly,
"Virtuosity' is the word most commonly associated with Chabon, and if Telegraph Avenue, the latest from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Yiddish Policeman's Union, is at first glance less conceptual than its predecessors, the sentences are no less remarkable. Set during the Bush/Kerry election, in Chabon's home of Berkeley, Calif., it follows the flagging fortunes of Brokeland Records, a vintage record store on the titular block run by Archy Stallings and Nat Jaffe, currently threatened with closure by Pittsburgh Steeler's quarterback-turned-entrepreneur Gibson 'G Bad' Goode's plans to 'restore, at a stroke, the commercial heart of a black neighborhood' with one of his Dogpile 'Thang' emporiums. The community mobilizes and confronts this challenge to the relative racial harmony enjoyed by the white Jaffe; his gay Tarantino-enthusiast son, Julie; and the African-American Archy, whose partner, Gwen Shanks, is not only pregnant but finds the midwife business she runs with Aviva, Jaffe's wife, in legal trouble following a botched delivery. Making matters worse is Stallings's father, Luther, a faded blaxploitation movie star with a Black Panther past, and the appearance of Titus, the son Archy didn't know he had. All the elements of a socially progressive contemporary novel are in place, but Chabon's preference for retro — the reader is seldom a page away from a reference to Marvel comics, kung fu movies, or a coveted piece of '70s vinyl — quickly wears out its welcome. Worse, Chabon's approach to race is surprisingly short on nuance and marred by a goofy cameo from a certain charismatic senator from Illinois. 15-city author tour. Agent: Mary Evans. (Sept. 11)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
by Booklist, starred review,
"A magnificently crafted, exuberantly alive, emotionally lustrous, and socially intricate saga....Bubbling with lovingly curated knowledge about everything from jazz to pregnancy...Chabon's rhapsodically detailed, buoyantly plotted, warmly intimate cross-cultural tale of metamorphoses is electric with suspense, humor, and bebop dialogue....An embracing, radiant masterpiece."
by Publishers Weekly,
"'Virtuosity' is the word most commonly associated with Chabon, and if Telegraph Avenue, the latest from Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Yiddish Policeman's Union, is at first glance less conceptual than its predecessors, the sentences are no less remarkable."
by The Atlantic,
"Expect its publication to be one of the bigger literary events of the year, akin to the release of The Marriage Plot this year or Freedom in 2010."
by Kirkus Reviews (starred review),
"An end-of-an era epic....A Joyce-an remix with a hipper rhythm track."
by Library Journal (starred review),
"If any novelist can pack the entire American zeitgeist into 500 pages, it's Chabon....Ambitious, densely written, sometimes very funny, and fabulously over the top, here's a rare book that really could be the great American novel."
by O magazine,
"An exhilarating, bighearted novel."
by Harper Collins,
New York Times bestselling, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Michael Chabon has transported readers to wonderful places: to New York City during the Golden Age of comic books (The Amazing Adventures ofKavalier and Clay); to an imaginary Jewish homeland in Sitka, Alaska (The Yiddish Policemen's Union); to discover The Mysteries of Pittsburgh. Now he takes us to Telegraph Avenue in a big-hearted and exhilarating novel that explores the profoundly intertwined lives of two Oakland, California families, one black and one white. In Telegraph Avenue, Chabon lovingly creates a world grounded in pop culture — Kung Fu, '70s Blaxploitation films, vinyl LPs, jazz and soul music — and delivers a bravura epic of friendship, race, and secret histories.
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