This is the first book I’ve read in over half this year, because of myriad distractions in the form of finishing law school, converting to Judaism, settling on a job, moving to Manhattan, and taking the bar exam. I wanted something great to get back into pleasure reading with, so when my friend offered me his copy of Kavalier and Clay—a book that had already been recommended to me multiple times—I thought it was perfect. Last year my favorite book of the year was another Chabon, and it is my understanding that this book is considered his greatest work, so I took it to Greece with me to consume on the beach.
And it was good. Just good. Chabon’s beauty in syntax is evident throughout, but I think not as refined as in Yiddish Policeman’s Union. His dedication to incorporating historical research about New York and the golden age of comics is commendable, but it filled the book with details and name drops that I knew I was missing because I myself have not dedicated months to such research. More importantly though, I just was not particularly interested in this story. It is a story of finding oneself, one’s purpose, one’s happiness, and it is a treatise on the act of creation and the pain and beauty that go along with it. It is about being an immigrant and an underdog and choosing new family after loss of community. It is, in short, a story that hits a ton of emotional points that I have already strenuously covered in my own lifetime, and that I don’t feel much need to cover again. Also, the book’s “the power of stories” theme felt too on the nose at several points; indeed, the scenes depicting young men so consumed within their work so as to be beaten by it tasted like thinly veiled autobiography in a way that I was not interested in. I think I was just really in the mood for some genre pulp, and this book was too cerebral for me in this moment of my life.
Things I particularly enjoyed: Chabon succeeds in writing wonderfully from a woman’s point of view in the couple of chapters where he chooses to do so. So too, his depiction of queerness and passing especially in the later half of the book is perfectly on the money. Finally, I liked the layout of the book with its clear act breaks. Some of them hit much harder than others, and I found myself wishing that more time would have been spent on the emotions in Radioman, and less on the immense denouement of The League of the Golden Key. Still, I’m glad I read this one, as I do think it’ll be fun to chat about with friends, and it was a perfect thick tome to carry me through the beaches of Koufonisia and Naxos.