Sunday, February 10, 2013

Telegraph Avenue

What I try to do with reviews at this Bookshelf blog is keep it simple and spoiler-free, and let you know whether I'd recommend you pick up a copy of what I just read. Seems to work okay. This time, a brief review of Telegraph Avenue (Harper, 2012).

I'd been intending to read Michael Chabon for many years, and finally succumbed to the siren's song of Telegraph Avenue, or, more accurately, its wonderful cover design, suggesting an LP pressed on red vinyl. Set in 2004, it's set around a used record store in Oakland facing the impending threat of a huge development coming up down the street that promises to have a fairly amazing music department as well, but there is so much more going on than just that.

Chabon mixes several stories of old friendships, marriages, and families all hitting rough waters at the same time. The big new mega-store that wants to move in is just the catalyst for a lot of old heartbreak and poor decisions resurfacing at once. I had to wince a few times reading this.

However, I laughed out loud much more often. I love Chabon's style, which assumes a great deal of popular culture literacy of his readers, and breezes through everything from Rudy van Gelder to blaxploitation cinema and 1970s Marvel Comics. Some of these are important to the narrative, and others, including more off-kilter references to Black Bolt and the Inhumans than anything that I've ever read before, are just perfectly timed and flawlessly judged. It takes a good eye and a good mind to match specific emotions by analogy to some four-color spectacle that most readers might have forgotten, and have it work every time.

It's not a quick read, and the author does get pretty weighed down with detail, and I had more than one complaint about some of the Jaffees' parenting choices, but I really enjoyed this book and have two more by the author on my shelf to follow it. Recommended for older readers.

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