, 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.