Jesse's Reviews > Telegraph Avenue

Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon
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Sep 17, 2012

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Sentence to sentence, just great. There's some wonderful writing about babies, and about commerce and old stores and those parts of Telegraph where Berkeley and Oakland kind of wander into each other (lived not far from there for about 2 years in early 90s, at at about 61st just off Claremont). Not to mention birthing and midwifery and lotsa nerd-boy stuff. Which is the problem. As early as Werewolves in Their Youth, Chabon started working the whole SF/fanboy/former nerd angle into his fiction, and there are a bunch of essays in his last collection about that as well. And of course Kavalier and Clay is maybe the ultimate meta-fanboy novel. I mean that in a good way. But here that whole worldview seems to have congealed into a key to all mysteries, such that each of the characters (OK, except for the wife of one of the guys who owns the used-vinyl store, but then we don't really get more than 5 pages of her character in a 460-page opus) not only indulges in some variety of archival inside-dopery (old r&b, comic books, blaxploitation) but seems to conceive of it in much the same way. Which makes them all too obviously offshoots of one writer's mind, and I don't really buy that. It's as if the essential aridity of these (male) preoccupations is meant to be counterposed to the fraught reality and bloodiness of organic birthing--with, OK, some irony, since Chabon has one of his characters note the obvious fact that only wealthy white Berkeleyans can afford to go back to the land there, so to speak--but in a way that secretly suggests that maybe we're all secret archaeolgists of some kind of mass-made crap or another. Which I also don't buy.

Shouldn't there be some sort of statute of limitations on mining your sense of yourself as a fat nerdy adolescent when you are now as rich, successful, and good-looking as Michael Chabon manifestly is? (And in fact has been since The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, to judge by cover photos?) I'd love to see him deal with his life as it is now in some way instead of continuing to pretend he's still that kid. I mean, he even turned writer's block into Wonder Boys. So why not go back to that sense of honest self-appraisal and write something reflecting who he is now?
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message 1: by Jonfaith (new)

Jonfaith "Shouldn't there be some sort of statute of limitations on mining your sense of yourself as a fat nerdy adolescent when you are now as rich, successful, and good-looking as Michael Chabon manifestly is?"

Didn't the protagonist's girlfriend in Fortress of Solitude ask him the same question? There is a good deal of the recovering nerd in Chabon and Lethem, I suppose that lards the appeal.


Jesse Indeed. I suppose that the difference, for me, is that Lethem basically still is that guy--started out writing genre fiction, basically, even if warped genre fiction--whereas Chabon seems at best to be playing him, or writing him. Though why I am complaining about this I'm not sure, since we suffered a good 40-50 years of Hemingway imitators and look where that got us.


Jonathan "So why not go back to that sense of honest self-appraisal and write something reflecting who he is now?" Well, for some people (me!) that would be super boring.


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