Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The amazing adventures of Kavalier and Clay

Late in The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, one of Michael Chabon's characters is reminiscing about his years past writing comic books. He thinks about "work that would, he hoped at the time, transform people's views and understanding of the art form that in 1949 he alone saw as a means of self-expression as potent as a Cole Porter tune in the hands of a Lester Young, or a cheap melodrama about an unhappy rich man in the hands of an Orson Welles". That might as well have been a summary of the book. In this stylish, poised and confident book, Chabon has breathed life into the era of a newborn art-form - the comic book. And he clearly loves the art-form, in a way that makes you love it too. "Most of all, he loved them for the pictures and stories they contained, the inspirations and lucubrations of five hundred aging boys dreaming as hard as they could for fifteen years, transfiguring their insecurities and delusions, their wishes and their doubts, their public educations and their sexual perversions, into something that only the most purblind of societies would have denied the status of art." How can you not love that? How can you not love such writing?

Kavalier and Clay spans sixteen years in the lives of the protagonists. The story starts in Czechoslovakia, moves to New York, on to the South Pole (!) and back to suburban Long Island. And across these different geographies in different times of the narrative, Chabon has you hooked. The writing is passionate, intense, and always, always learned. In an insulting reference to Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner once said "He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary." That is not a charge that can be laid on Chabon. Faulkner, in the quote above, manages to instantly get the listener riled up and on Hemingway's side, purely on the basis of how hoity-toity he sounds. Chabon, on the other hand, writes his vocabulary stretching prose in a way that glows with beauty and never once distracts the reader.

As I have said in previous posts, I am now officially a Michael Chabon fan. Kavalier and Clay was, I understand his first attempt at going past the first person narrator, and going into a multi-year storyline. It was a cracker. I can't wait to read his other books and see what mysteries await. Yiddish Policeman's Union - here I come!

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