Wednesday, December 4, 2013
Kavalier and Clay - Michael Chabon
2000; 636 pages. Full Title : The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. New Author? : No. Genre : Contemporary Literature. Laurels : Pulitzer Prize winner – 2001. Overall Rating : 9½*/10.
19-year-old Joe Kavalier has just arrived in New York City from Prague, fleeing Nazi persecution. He can do marvelous drawings, but obviously knows only fragmentary English.
He’s staying at his aunt’s house, rooming with his cousin, 17-year-old Sammy Clay. Sammy’s artistic talent is marginal, but he has a way with words, and has an inexhaustible trove of catchy plotlines.
They have the talent and potential to be a top-flight comic book team, and rake in some big bucks. But it’s a jungle out there for a pair of naïve teenagers, and life will throw a lot of distractions at them. Can they stay focused and overcome the challenges? Come on, they’re teenagers.
What’s To Like...
The writing is elegant, and it’s easy to see why Kavalier & Clay won a Pulitzer Prize. The character-development is wonderful, and the three main characters – Joe, Sammy, and Rosa – make for an a surprisingly original love triangle.
There are a bunch of themes running throughout the book – Houdini-esque magic tricks, business deals, anti-Semitism, love, hatred, the challenge of emigrating to a new country – but the main ones are life in pre-WW2 America in general (especially for its Jewish citizens), and the golden era of comic books in particular. They are all superbly done. Oh, “gayness before it was acceptable” is also dealt with, so if you’re a homophobe, you probably won’t like this book.
There are a few adult situations and language, but really not enough to call it R-rated. There is some, but not a lot, of action; and just enough humor (primarily Sammy’s remarkable wit) to season the story properly.
It took me about 100 pages to get used to Chabon’s writing style, but once I did, this became quite the page-turner for me. And character-driven stories are generally not my genre.
Kewlest New Word...
Aetataureate (adj.) : of the “golden years”. Here, the phrase is “the aetataureate delusion”, which seems to refer to the (apparently false) notion that old age is fun.
Although Joe had never forgotten the girl whom he had surprised that morning in Jerry Glovsky’s bedroom, he saw that, in his nocturnal reimaginings of the moment, he had badly misremembered her. He never would have recalled her forehead as so capacious and high, her chin so delicately pointed. In fact, her face would have seemed overlong were it not counterbalanced by an extravagant flying buttress of a nose. Her rather small lips were set in a bright red hyphen that curved downward just enough at one corner to allow itself to be read as a smirk of amusement, from which she herself was not exempted, at the surrounding tableau of human vanity. (pg. 237)
“So,” said Bacon, what’s he so hot to trot about?”
“His girl,” said Sammy. “Miss Rosa Luxemburg Saks.”
“I see.” Bacon had a little bit of a southern accent. “She a foreigner, too?”
“Yeah, she is,” Sammy said. “She’s from Greenwich Village.”
“I’ve heard of it.”
“It’s a pretty backward place.”
“The people are little more than savages.”
“I hear they eat dogs there.”
“Rosa can do amazing things with dog.” (pg. 302)
“Praise means so much when it comes from a lunatic.” (pg. 539)
The first half of the book – from Joe’s arrival in NYC in 1939 until December 7th 1941, borders on being perfect. Then the storyline gets a tad disjointed, as we jump instantly to Joe’s tenure in Antarctica, and his subsequent going to ground. The ending takes place in 1954, and is somewhat contrived, but frankly, I don't think there’s any adequate way to end a complex story like this.
You can tell Chabon did a lot of research into the time period used and the world of comic books. The result is a detailed, authentic-feeling, including real people like Salvador Dali and Orson Welles making cameo appearances.
9½ Stars. 10 Stars for the first half; 9 stars for the second half. This is truly a masterpiece.