by Michael Chabon
Depending on who you ask, Michael Chabon is either one of the finest writers of the English language working today or he is the finest writer of the English language, full stop. My opinion vacillates between the two. A reputation like that comes with some pretty lofty expectations for each new book. I'm pleased to say that Chabon's latest, Telegraph Avenue, did not disappoint.
At the core of this novel is Brokeland Records, described at points as "the church of vinyl" and "an institution." You know the place, or someplace like it—a down on its heels shop that's a gathering spot for a passionate community of its own making. Brokeland is owned by Archy Stallings (black) and Nat Jaffe (white, Jewish) and these partners echo the diversity and cultures of the Berkeley/Oakland neighborhoods straddled by the eponymous avenue.
This is a long book. It's not epic. I'm not even sure that it's sprawling. But it is full. By the time you reach the end, you will be thoroughly familiar with the businesses, marriages, and families of both Archy and Nat. You'll have met and followed their lives, and the lives of their customers, their adversaries, and one well-educated parrot. You'll know the intimate details of their relationships and their personal histories. Chabon packs a whole heap of detail and digression into the course of his 480 pages, and that doesn't even include a boatload of pop culture references to 70's jazz, Blaxploitation films, and martial arts.
Chabon's affection for his characters is contagious and it's hard not to love
|Michael displays a rare copy of the Theme from Telegraph Avenue|
|Commemorative button & special stamp|
Yes, there are some flashy scenes in this book that you will hear about—the 12-page sentence, the Obama cameo—but for my money Chabon's achievement is in the entirety of this work. He's created a world that's familiar and recognizable, yet somehow just a little better, shinier than reality. As I began reading this novel, I thought it was fantastic, but wouldn't replace Kavalier & Clay in my heart. But now I wonder. The real Telegraph Avenue is a short commute from my home, but it's Chabon's version that will stay with me.