Valeri Drach's Reviews > Telegraph Avenue

Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon
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's review
Nov 05, 2012

it was amazing

Michael Chabon's central theme of all time is male relationships. He's often a good sport and throws in some strong females, probably to sooth his mother, wife and eventually daughters, but his heart is with fathers, sons, and brothers. Telegraph Avenue takes us to Oakland and the relationships between their intertwined black and white neighborhoods. Nat Jaffe, a white man partially raised by a black step mother, he reveals in the fried chicken of his childhood, and Archy Stallings, a black man who must face his own fatherhood. The two own a vinyl record store about to be menaced by a former football player turned into a monster entrepreneur who threatens to swallow them up with a mega store. Their wives, White Aviva and Black Gwen are also in partnership as midwives, delivering the babies of white, Berkeley women, who dream of delivering in bathtubs with soft music and incense burning rather than white, sterile hospitals. One of Gwen's many problems is that she she wants deliver the babies of poor black women also. And so begins the many complications of Chabon's diverse hometown novel. What people like about this Pulitzer Prize winning author is that they know they are are in competent hands when he is spinning one of his long tour de forces of a place or era. This era is 2004 and its interesting to note that in a short time, less than a decade, the Internet has become the place of commerce. Brokeland Records, located on an almost sacred black site, a barbershop where the community communed, is fighting for survival. A place when Chan Flowers, a regular who buys records and is a councilman capable of saving them from Gibson Goode, the bad ex NFL player trying to swallow them like a black Moby Dick. In fact, he travels in a zeppelin that turns their sky black, a foreboding of their demise., The novel honors a few of Chabons fascinations, black exploitation films and Jazz music. But most of all it is a book that honors the father son relationship. Archy is the son of Luther Stallings, a recovering drup addict who used to be a star in black exploitation films, who wants a comeback. So Archy is a son who was never fathered, who is the father to a fourteen year old boy, Titus, who he never even met and is about to become a father to a brand new son, the one Gwen, his wife is pregnant with. Can he man up, father his two sons, become a husband to his wife rather than a philanderer that he's been so far, and can he hold up his end of his partnership with Nat? There's a funny sub theme running through novel that links a slew of minor and major characters trying to survive and outrun old vendettas and inter racial complications. We also have young boys involved in a gay complication, the sons of Nat and Archy. The ending fizzles, closer to a sitcom finale than a Michael Chabon spectacular. But this author's near misses are worth reading and are certainly more satisfying than the best works of most of his contemporaries. As with all his others, always a fine literary event!
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