14 September 2012

My Thoughts on Michael Chabon, Telegraph Avenue

Welcome to the TLC Book Tour for Michael Chabon's Telegraph Avenue!
Click on the image to buy it from Powell's

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 Avenue
Author: Michael Chabon
Publisher: Harper
Date: 2012
Genre: Literary Fiction

480 pages.
Where I got it: From the publisher through Edelweiss
 Challenges: Chunkster Challenge



7 comments:

  1. Nice review. I loved the 12-page sentence, and I normally hate that stream-of-consciousness sort of thing, but it really worked here. I did think that sometimes the writing was kind of boggy but I had to stick with it to find out what happeened to everyone!

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    Replies
    1. I'm glad to hear you liked it. I've read some lukewarm reviews concerning the plot, but I thought the writing was fabulous, and I also fell in love with the characters.

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  2. "he is a better writer about women than men in my opinion" - now THAT is interesting to consider, and not at all what I would expect!

    I'm glad you enjoyed this book overall. Thanks for being on the tour.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you! I reviewed his book of essays Manhood for Amateurs recently as well, along with his wife's book, Bad Mother. They write really lovingly about one another.

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  3. I also enjoyed the parts about the women (my thoughts, I'm on the tour as well), I haven't thought about it until I read your review.

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  4. I'm just starting this one and finding myself having the same problem you did at the beginning. Luckily, I've read a couple of Chabon already so I know that I will be rewarded. He truly has a unique style and unusual characters.

    Irene (Eureka Joe's)

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I love your comments. Thanks for making me a happy blogger.

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