Monday, May 17, 2010

Book Review: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

It's been a few months now since I've finished this book, and I simply hadn't had the chance until now to sit down and give it a proper review. I suppose this is a benefit to the book because, upon reflecting on it, I now see more clearly what I enjoyed about it.

I think what I enjoyed most was Joe Kavalier. I had read Chabon before, and I was frustrated with his ability to create an interesting character and make me bored of hearing about them. I never got bored of Joe. If anything, I always felt like the narration was hiding something about Joe, some key to understanding his motivations that went well beyond the basics of missing his family and loving art. It's never revealed, but the depth of his emotions is implied, leaving the reader an opportunity to analyze his motivations through the prism of any combination of Joe's personal history, revealed throughout the arc of the narrative.

I'm glad I gave Chabon a second chance. Reading "The Yiddish Policeman's Union" first left a bitter taste in my mouth that Chabon doesn't deserve...I couldn't have been convinced before that he was capable of a book like this, and now I'm a convert, intent on reading another of his works soon. I really enjoyed how this book deigned to span the expanses of time, place, and historicity that make other favorite books of mine (Middlesex, Everything Is Illuminated) so engaging. Chabon has a gift for diction and syntax that makes his work beautiful to read.

My criticisms of the book are mainly the following two points. One: I'm still not convinced of Chabon's ability to write an effective female character. I didn't always believe in Rosa's motivations or emotions, she seemed limited by the male viewpoint. I realize that it might be hard for someone so adept at creating intriguing men to understand the differences necessary for female thought, but Chabon should be able to shoulder that burden with the same tact and attention to detail that he gives to creating a historical landscape for his works. Your women have to be real, not comic book caricatures of what you think a female ought to be like.

The second was the comic book referencing. Chabon's intention may have been to color the story with a deep well of knowledge that contributes to realism. He very likely did a tremendous amount of research for this book and this is commendable. But you know what? I don't want to see that research, at least not directly. His obsession with showing off his comic book knowledge and excessive use of comic book reference seems a lot like hammering in superfluous garbage for the sake of looking cool. You like comic books, you know a lot about them, we get it. We don't need you to tell us again because all that is doing is distracting from the charming and beautiful story you already have in front of you.

I can't think of many people who wouldn't enjoy this book, and I would be inclined to recommend it to anyone. My only advice is to stick it out after it slows down 100 pages in. It'll be worth it.

This review was reposted and expanded from my review at Good Reads. Oh, you love reading and reviewing books, too? Join! We can be friends!

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