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For years his life had balanced like the world of legend on the backs of great elephants, which stood on the back of a giant turtle; the elephants were his partnership[s]... and the turtle was his belief that real and ordinary friendship between black people and white people was possible, at least here, on the streets of the minor kingdom of Brokeland, California. Here along the water margin, along the borderlands, along the vague and crooked frontier of Telegraph Avenue. Now that foundational pileup of bonds and beliefs was tottering, toppling like the tower of circus elephants in Dumbo.Oh geez, what to say. Michael Chabon's new book is sort of epic. I have to start by saying that I am really a fan of Michael Chabon, and so I must admit that there are probably some things about this book that aren't perfect. There were parts that lagged a little for me; there were maybe a few too many characters; it is maybe a little too long. I don't care at all; I thought it was wonderful. In the first hundred pages, I was wanting to pick up, and read all at once, all of Chabon's previous books. By the end, I was slightly less enthusiastic, but still ready for more.
Telegraph Avenue is the story of a place, and that place is a street at the border of Berkeley and Oakland, two cities that are right next door to one another, but worlds apart in many ways. Archy Stallings and Nat Jaffe are business partners and best friends. Their wives are business partners and best friends. Archy and Gwen are black; Nate and Aviva are white and Jewish. Archy and Gwen live in Oakland; Nate and Aviva live in Berkeley. Where they meet is in "Brokeland" where Archy and Nate own a record store -- a small, specialist shop, being threatened by the imminent encroachment of the media superstore "Dogpile Records," an all-black corporation, promising to bring back life to the old neighborhood. As you can likely tell by my description so far, this is a book about race, but also about friendship, and loyalty, and home, and so many other things.
Two of the best characters in the book are Titus Joyner (SPOILER ALERT), Archy's abandoned son, and Jules "Julie" Jaffe, Nate and Aviva's son. The two have a relationship that for Titus is experimental, but for Jules is perhaps his first love. Both are Quentin Tarantino fanboys, wannabe ninjas, and total film nerds. They are super duper likeable characters. What is also likeable is Chabon's writing, which is in fine form here. There is a 12 page long sentence, which some readers may find unnecessary, but which I found to be an example of the writer's technical virtuosity. As this is where I can admit that they MFAish (made that up), wordplay heavy, reference rife writing can seem a little bogged down sometimes. However, I revel in that kind of thing.
Then there are the parts about midwifery. Although it seems strange, since Chabon is himself a nerdy, music loving fanboy, he is a better writer about women than men in my opinion. Aviva Roth-Jaffe, and especially Gwen Shanks, are good enough to use a cliche - they leap of the page. Their storyline also deals with many of the BIG THEMES in the book in a really well-integrated way.
From me, this one is highly recommended.
Title:Telegraph AvenueAuthor: Michael Chabon
Genre: Literary Fiction
Where I got it: From the publisher through Edelweiss
Challenges: Chunkster Challenge