Rachel Rochester's Reviews > Telegraph Avenue

Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon
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Sep 27, 12


My relationship with Michael Chabon has always been one of simultaneous love and hate. For all his verbosity, for all his pretension, I do believe Chabon is an unbelievably gifted story teller. His plot lines are fantastical, and yet I always find my disbelief suspended. His ability to approach both stark devastation and complex themes with humor and delicacy is unmatched. But there is a part of him that will always believe that "equipoise" is a word a 14-year-old boy might actually use, and therein lies his weakness. Chabon is incapable of being anyone but a hyper-educated nerd who is obsessed by the esoteric elements of pop culture, and he writes mostly for and of his people. Therefore I wonder about the authenticity of his portrayal of marginalized midwives and crack-addicted ex-blaxploitation stars. Since experts in those fields make up a relatively small subset of the population, however, I feel limited in my ability to inquire of someone who might actually know.

The one thing I do know is that Chabon did a nice job of depicting the mindset of record store owners, who are trying to fight a swelling tide of hopelessness. For those of us who love music, whose obsession occasionally isolates the people in our lives who do not share it, and who pointlessly argue the merits of an obsolete medium, the demise of the record store feels a great deal like the death of a friend. As the owners of Brokeland Records cope with the seemingly ineluctable demise of their life's work, their loss is paralleled by the ongoing mourning of their friend and greatest customer, Cochise Jones. Chabon portrays these characters with complexity and tenderness, and establishes that they are grieving, in all the ugliness and hostility that grief entails.

Chabon's depiction of the big-box store was perhaps the most surprising element of this novel, from my perspective. Although the protagonists are indie-slingers til the bitter end, they are against the chains mostly because of personal interests. For a liberal like Chabon, I was shocked that he did not take advantage of his literary soap box to preach for the little guy. So I'll say it: shop independent, because while the fictitious Dogpile Thang of this book might be supposed to create jobs and educate the masses about obscure musical elements, most megastores do not. Most megastores eliminate diversity of the marketplace, eliminate jobs in the community, and yes, destroy the local shops that make our towns unique.
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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

Great review - I had all the same issues, but after I got into it was very entertained. The first hundred pages I just kept thinking "You show-off!"


Jonathan There are some 14 yr old boys out there who would use "equipoise".


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