Mike Moore's Reviews > The Yiddish Policemen's Union

The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon
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M_50x66
's review
Sep 30, 11


A friend of mine (Hi Adam) has a pet peeve against inefficient writing. If something is in a book... an object, a conversation, a character, etc... it should be in the book for a reason. This book is not for Adam. Chabon leaves stuff lying all over the place. That a sizable number of bits and pieces come together in the last twenty pages is more a testament to the density of stuff flying around in the book than to any design on the author's part, it's like pieces from thirty different jigsaw puzzles in the same box. A few are bound to fit together.

So this is in no way a work of precision. Rather, it is a messy work that careens along a general path that we'll call "the plot". If there are no major detours, there's also no strong sense that the driver (Chabon) is in any particular hurry or even remembers the way.

So what's to recommend a hard-boiled noir film that rambles? The most striking feature of this book is its overwhelming jewishness. In its way, this book is as obsessed with the jewish condition as "Invisible Man" is with the plight of modern African Americans. The book expresses the world as seen by one steeped from birth in the culture of diaspora, with all the complexity that entails. This is good stuff, but ultimately there are a couple of things that keep even this aspect of the book from rising to a high level. Foremost is that Chabon's vision is rooted so inexorably in a particular kind of jewish identity: the modern liberal jew, self-liberated from the commandments of god, the morals of an intrusive society, and everything except a preening self-pity at the fate of being born with so much cultural baggage. The narrative insistence of the rightness of this view (including of some lovely monologues about god's irrelevance and the discovery that religious jews are actually the unwitting puppets of born-again christians) effectively scuttles any hope that the book could address the condition of jews (or humans) in any universal sense.

This leaves me in kind of a weird place in recommending this book. As a noir story, it's fairly poor (contrived character flaws, inexplicable plot holes, I could go on at length). As a cultural investigation, it's one-sided and flawed. As a work of speculative fiction... well if this is a work of speculative fiction than Faulkner is as well (hey, he invented a county). The people who give out Hugos have officially abandoned their own genre. However, I'm still rating this pretty high because somehow, Chabon made something enjoyable out of all these odds and ends. It's like somebody took my aforementioned box of mismatched puzzle pieces and put them together into a cohesive whole. Even though there's something wrong and faintly irritating about the completed project, I'm still pleased by the ingenuity and sheer chutzpah of the effort.
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