Sunday, January 13, 2013

Telegraph Avenue

Michael Chabon's love letter to Oakland and its "Brokeland Creole" residents is entertaining and virtuosic from start to finish. A celebration of postwar black popular culture, midwifery, inept and irresponsible but ultimately well-meaning fatherhood, and East Bay lefty-ism, Telegraph Avenue's irresistible protagonist Archy Stallings is a man-child dealing with impending (and unanticipated present) fatherhood in the grand tradition of Grady Tripp. The supporting cast is excellent. The writing is damn near perfect, even the ostentatious central section, written without punctuation, which follows the flight of a liberated pet parrot as it passes over and observes the main characters. Just the kind of exercise you could image Professor Chabon assigning his creative writing class. Damned if he doesn't just pull it off.

In her review of TA in the New York Review of Books, Cathleen Schine (clearly a fan) writes, "Chabon is an extraordinarily generous writer. He is generous to his characters, to his landscapes, to syntax, to words, to his readers..." Indeed, if Chabon has a flaw as a writer, it is that he is too generous to his readers, and too much in love with his own characters to view them with any real detachment or objectivity. His satirical barbs are funny and well-aimed, but rarely amount to much more than gentle ribbing. These are, after all, his people. And your people too... or at least, you will wish it so.

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