Thursday, March 21, 2013

Review: "Telegraph Avenue" by Michael Chabon

I think I have finally got Michael Chabot pegged as to what he is trying to do with his books. With each novel, he tries to blend a certain kind of modern sensibility toward pop culture with the kind of scholarship you’d expect out of archaic English professors. For all the things I have to say about him, I find this mission very admirable. We need to broaden the types of people and things we deem smart and intellectual, and throw some of this narrow minded crap out the window, and writers like Chabon are trying to do that. But he does so in a rather pretentious way that does little to bridge the gap between high art and pulp subjects. They don’t mix well, and the characters he creates come off as being rather arrogant about their shared knowledge of Sci-Fi and Dickens, and I would go as far to say that they don’t reach out to too many average readers. His new novel, Telegraph Avenue, is like that for about the last 300 or so pages, using silly techniques (like a whole section being one sentence, which, at 15 pages, is quite a drag), and making references that smack of smugness about Jazz music and obscure film. But for the fist hundred pages or so, it is as good as his novel Wonderboys, which is still what I compare all his other books to. This story of Brokeland Records, its two founder, Archy and Nat, and the community they trying to save from Gibson Goode and the Dogpile Record juggernaut, as a very positive message about little businesses and how they are safe havens for collectors when the world gets too rough. But when side characters are introduced, like the two wives, as well as Archy’s long lost son and father, who was a pseudo-Fred Williamson in the 70’s, this book totally derails and crash lands. Hopefully he can repeat the success of Wonderboys in the future, because, whether it is good or not, I feel obligated to read it.
Rating: 3/5

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