Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
By Michael Chabon

It took me an eternity to get around to this book. I read Michael Chabon's book The Yiddish Policemen's Union last year and enjoyed it, but not enough to go rushing out and read another of his books, especially one that is over 600 pages long. But I kept hearing these things about this book. People kept telling me how it was one of the best books of the past ten years and totally deserving of the Pulitzer Prize. It simply weighed my bookcase down for far too long and I had to pick it up.

Glad I did.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is exactly what books and literature is all about. It's good writing and a great story about well-formed characters that deserve and gain the respect and empathy of their readers. It is well researched, impossible to predict and, as everyone seemed to tell me prior to reading, entirely deserving of the accolades it has garnered. OK, so I just sort of started vomiting attributes. Let me slow it down and explain.

First and foremost, Michael Chabon is a fantastic writer. I don't mean "fantastic" in the way we over use the word but rather in its more traditional usage as fanciful. But I knew this to be true when I read The Yiddish Policemen's Union  Of all the things I didn't like about that book (and there were a few things), Chabon's abilities as a writer were never questioned. He has an undeniable ability with tone, pace and, most of all, setting. I could practically smell 1940s Manhattan throughout this novel in the same way I could the Sitka Settlement in The Yiddish Policemen's Union.

As an aspiring writer myself, I find Chabon an intimidating novelist to read and appreciate. Reading a single paragraph is liable to send me to my bedroom a blubbering puddle of delicate emotions wrapped in a flimsy eggshell of a man not to be heard from for the remainder of the weekend. I mean how does he write that eloquently? Damn him! (And when I say "damn him," I mean he's fantastic (And when I say he's fantastic," I me... oh never mind)).

You can be a fantastic writer but if the story doesn't jive with readers, all those pretty paragraphs and succinct sentences (and all that alluring alliteration, I might add) are for naught. This was my fundamental problem with The Yiddish Policemen's Union. Great writing. Excellent characters. Wonderful tone. Good pacing. Boring-assed story. Not so with The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. I especially loved the fact that each character has their own story to go along with the common story of the novel. As in, each of the characters in the novel has their own problems and tribulations to deal with outside the bubble of the central story. And whereas some authors (coughcathylambcough) tend to spread the issues and drama on thick, Chabon knows exactly how much drama and stress to foist onto his characters shoulders without inducing reading induced epileptic seizures brought on by repeated eye rolling.

I genuinely cared for every single character in this novel (Yes, even Sheldon Anapol). They were rendered in such three dimensional detail that they seemed to have genuine texture and depth. I really felt like these guys existed in the annals of comic book lore. Surrounding him with real life comic book names such as Stan Lee and Bob Kane only augmented the illusion of reality. A very definite blur was put into effect.

And that's something else that deserves mention. Michael Chabon quite obviously researched the hell out of the comic book industry in the 1940s (and the Second World War as fought on the continent of Antarctica as well). As a fan of historical fiction I appreciate the attention to detail. But I also appreciate Chabon's determination to make shit up whenever it pleased him. I like Chabon's attitude toward history: Render it as close as possible to the truth whenever possible but throw it out the window when it doesn't fit the story he's trying to tell. Excellent lesson for any writer.

Speaking of the story, it is not only riveting (as I mentioned earlier) but it is also unpredictable. At no point during this narrative did I have a single clue where Chabon was taking me. There's nothing wrong with predictable story lines, good writers can take you down familiar roads and show you different sights along the way, but it's always nice to have someone show you an entirely different path. I, at no point in the reading of this novel, knew where Chabon was taking me. Furthermore, there were episodes in this novel that I could not have predicted in a thousand years of predictions.

So it won the Pulitzer Prize. Did it deserve it? Of course, I don't know. I haven't yet read everything published from 2000. But it couldn't have been the worst option. As I said off the top, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is everything that a reader should expect from literature. Good writing, strong characters and a romping good story.

I mean, seriously, in literature, what else matters?


Brian Joseph said...

This sounds like a lot of fun. I love stories about the 1940s. I also like comic book — like fanciful stories. Of course World War II and Antarctica sounds enticing!

Sharon Henning said...

I know exactly what you mean by someone being a great writer but not telling a good story. There's a lot of those out there. You're the second review I've read about Chabon's books. I'll have to check this out.

Jean-Paul Thuot said...

I'm 100 pages into this book, on the recommendation of this blog. So far it has not disappointed.

Paul Adams said...

I loved Kavelier & Clay, my favourite of his books. I just stumbled on your blog by accident today and I'm another avid reader in Taiwan, although I'm a West coaster. Will keep an eye out here for recommendations :)

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