Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Book Thoughts - Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon

Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon
published 2012
468 pages

Synopsis from publisher -

As the summer of 2004 draws to a close, Archy Stallings and Nat Jaffe are still hanging in there — longtime friends, bandmates, and co-regents of Brokeland Records, a kingdom of used vinyl located in the borderlands of Berkeley and Oakland. Their wives, Gwen Shanks and Aviva Roth-Jaffe, are the Berkeley Birth Partners, a pair of semi-legendary midwives who have welcomed more than a thousand newly minted citizens into the dented utopia at whose heart — half tavern, half temple — stands Brokeland.

When ex-NFL quarterback Gibson Goode, the fifth-richest black man in America, announces plans to build his latest Dogpile megastore on a nearby stretch of Telegraph Avenue, Nat and Archy fear it means certain doom for their vulnerable little enterprise. Meanwhile, Aviva and Gwen also find themselves caught up in a battle for their professional existence, one that tests the limits of their friendship. Adding another layer of complications to the couples' already tangled lives is the surprise appearance of Titus Joyner, the teenage son Archy has never acknowledged and the love of fifteen-year-old Julius Jaffe's life.

My thoughts -

It has been a bit of a challenge for me to write about this novel, because I am really of two minds about it. From a technical standpoint, it was easy to see how masterful Chabon's writing is. He is clearly a writer of great talent, and his craft was displayed to great effect in Telegraph Avenue. He uses metaphor liberally throughout - I know often I didn't fully understand the reference, so didn't quite "get" the idea. But it was easy to tell, even as I was reading, that this is a magnificently crafted book.

Unfortunately for me, that didn't make the reading of it a completely enjoyable experience. For much of the book, I felt bogged down in details, and almost as if I couldn't quite grasp the gist of the story. Characters come and go, and while they are all interesting, it is hard to figure out if they are important, or if they will ever even return to the narrative. It all just felt like a little too much - too many words, too many characters, too much going one. I had to think SO hard to keep up that I could never fully immerse myself in the story.

I've seen several comparisons to James Joyce, and I can certainly understand them. Now, it's not a stretch to say that I enjoyed Telegraph Avenue more than Ulysses - while it seemed, at times, frustrating and overwhelming, there was enough in the narrative and the wonderful characters that I truly wanted to finish the novel to see how everything turned out. But that sense of feeling like it was too much - like the novel was just a second away from getting the best of me - that was the same.

It's hard for me to decide if I should recommend this novel or not - I've seen a lot of professional reviewers rave about the book, so I know it certainly appeals to some readers. Personally, I found it to be an interesting intellectual exercise, but not necessarily an engaging read. I'm sure it will be right for many readers - I'm just not sure it was right for me.

Finished - 9/24/13
Source - review copy from publisher via TLC Book Tours - thank you!
MPAA rating - R for language and adult situations
My rating - hmmmm.
9/10 for craftsmanship
4/10 for
7/10 overall??

If you want to read more opinions on this novel, check out the TLC Book Tours schedule. 


bermudaonion said...

I've avoided Chabon because I always thought his books were too smart for me. You just confirmed it.

Heather J @ TLC Book Tours said...

I've certainly heard a great deal about Chabon's ability with words but it's a bummer that it didn't translate into an engaging story for you.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this book for the tour.