05 August 2007

Yiddish Alaskans, Harry Potter, and an old Pulitzer

Dale wrote about the Kit Carson book, but he also added notes about two other books he's read recently. In response to his expressed intention to read Chabon's earlier, prize-winning book, I append my thoughts on it as an import from the old Reading web page.

Confused yet?

Here are Dale's comments on Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union , Rowling's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and my reactions to The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay:

Dale wrote:

I read The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon.

He is a master of descriptive, innnovative phrasing, and his imagined world in which the Jewish people are not in control of Israel, but instead have their greatest population concentration on the southern border of Alaska is clever, believable, and intriguing.

His charactes are vivid, the story is a mulit-layered mystery, and I was genuinely sorry to come to the end. So much so, that I rushed out and bought The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, for which he won the pulitzer prize.

I got distracted from starting that, however, because I had to take a couple days and read the last of the Harry Potter series (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows).

I liked it, although I felt that Rowling relied a bit on caricatures of her previous characters, I was satisfied witht the finale and how she concluded the epic good vs evil struggle.

I suppose it reveals that we all have a basic need to escape, even though the magical world of her novel is filled with danger and turmoil, a fascination and, perhaps, a yearning for the power of magic and the guiding hand of destiny enables even a "medium aged guy" ( in the words of my 11 year old daughter) like me to lose himself in the wizarding world for awhile.

My 2003 reactions to The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay:

Some time ago, someone asked in these pages about The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon, but said nothing else about it. I had an approach-avoidance reaction to what I heard about the book. I have to admit being somewhat curious at the time. There was quite a bit of publicity about it because it had just won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. I'd heard the story was about a couple movers and shakers in the comic book industry of the 1940s. Well -- I'm one of the few people in the world who has read the history of Mad Magazine. On the other hand, other things I read about the book weren't attractive. Don't ask me now what those things were. I don't remember. I only remember the feeling.

Then son Jim gave me the book for Christmas. Make that Christmas of 2001. It took me a year to get to the book and it's taken me 6 months to get to writing about it.

One reason it's taken so long is my confusion about the book.

What does it take to win a Pulitzer? And what does it take to get Daniel Mendelsohn to say in New York magazine that he's "not sure what the exact definition of a 'great American novel' is, but I'm pretty sure that Michael Chabon's sprawling, idiosyncratic, and wrenching new book is one..."?

Well, I still don't know. This novel contains several stories. I'm not sure they're connected except by the author's assertion that the same characters were involved. I guess I'm not a reader of literature. I need things laid out for me. There are stories about

    • a young Jewish escapee from the Holocaust
    • a creative and hard-driven young New Yorker
    • a tolerant and beautiful woman
    • suppressed sexuality yearning for expression
    • the internal dynamics of a comic book industry

If there are supposed to be connections between the stories I couldn't discern them. If you want to know which ones are about which characters, you'll have to read the book. Some of the stories are interesting. Others are not. I really don't know what holds them all together. If the critic for New York magazine isn't sure what a great American novel is, how can he be sure this is one? I really don't know what makes something a great American novel. And I know even less why this is a "great American novel." I kept reading hoping to get some clues.

Janet Maslin wrote in The New York Times that this is "a big, ripe, excitingly imaginative novel... that echoes of Ragtime..." I read Ragtime long ago. My memory may not be as clear as Ms Maslin's but the only echo of Ragtime I sense is that the stories mostly take place in New York. I have fond memories of Ragtime. Maybe I should go back and reread that. I can imagine rereading Ragtime. I can't imagine rereading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.

Anyone else have a reaction to the book? I'd like to hear from someone besides the New York critics and Pulitzer judges.

1 comment:

franQ said...

Hearing all this talk of the new Chabon release makes me a little sad…

A year ago, I would have been thrilled and no doubt attended his book signing. He’s been my favorite author since I first read his debut novel THE MYSTERIES OF PITTSBURGH back in the early 90s.

But I can no longer support the work of an author who has no regard for the story and characters that put him on the literary map.

In case you haven’t heard, there’s a film version of MOP coming out later this year… Written and directed by the guy who brought us DODGEBALL, in which he’s CHANGED 85% of Chabon’s original story.

And the sad part is… Michael Chabon himself APPROVED of the script! WHY would he do this? I can only think of one possible answer: $$

If you are a Chabon fan, esp MOP, I suggest you do NOT see this movie. You will be sadly disappointed at the COMPLETE removal of the gay character, Arthur Lecomte, and the fabrication of a romantic love triangle between Art Bechstein, Jane Bellwether, and a bi-sexual Cleveland Arning. And really, what is MOP without the presence of Phlox Lombardi? Alas, she’s barely in it.

For a copy of the script email: bechstein[at]yahoo[dot]com