Jason's Reviews > Telegraph Avenue

Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon
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Nov 13, 12

Read in November, 2012

On page 98 Michael Chabon writes about uncool white people who try to act like black people...I think he should have taken his own advice. I have never read such stereotypical characters in an urban novel based upon black-Americans. On page 158 Obama shows up in all his mythological glory as the empathetic hero he is (to Jewish liberals from San Francisco anyway), and even magically makes the novel become, somewhat, better in story line. Up until this point in the novel we have, like I said, stereotypical ethnic types, and to add to that so very superficial characters to fill in the supporting cast.
Archy Stallings and Nat Jaffe (the Jewish sidekick) own a record store on the border of SF and Oakland, called Borderland. It is the local “in” spot for characters to hang out in. Here was a great opportunity for the author to develop characters and if he had stayed inside that store for the first hundred pages he could have developed his characters. We only have a brief time in the store, and mostly, Chabon’s book is all over the map creating so many loose ends there is no possible way he would be able to bring conclusion in just around 460+ pages...and he does not. There is some conflict: a mega chain record store is opening (the owner obviously has not done any research to businesses that have failed in the last 10 years) and Archy has a father (Luther), a former exploitation movie star of the 1970s who is such a stereotype that it hurt to read about him. Archy also has a son (Titus) from a failed relationship which seemed to be long before he even met his current wife (Gwen) who seems much too angry about this to be real.
Lets talk about Gwen, she is a finger snapping type “Oh no you did’ent” black woman. Supposedly she is educated and yet, does not appear so (perhaps Chabon has some type of suppressed problem with educated black women--not surprising ). Gwen is partnered with Nat’s wife (a truly unforgettable character and I cannot even recall her name) as midwives who, after a problem with a birth, develop a problem with a doctor at the hospital they are associated with. Gwen is a one-dimensional annoying character from beginning to end. There is nothing that feels real with these characters.
The end of the book fails in any type of honest conclusion.It felt rushed, I felt as if he did not care enough and just wanted to be done with the project (maybe I am transferring my feelings--I wanted this book to end). I closed the cover and my first word was “crap”.
So I went for a walk and had to ask myself what was good about the book. I will admit that Mr. Chabon has a way with words. He writes to make the words interesting and that kept me reading. This is the thing that the people who give out Pulizers look for when they are giving awards. Certainly nobody gets an Oscar for just having their lines memorized, or an artist who just chooses the right colors.But people who give out writing awards are a pompous lot (have you ever really read some of the Nobel winners ?) The Pulizer is a great thing for a writer and it will not only sell books and get many people to claim they love your books, but, believe me they probably never got past the first 158 pages. Also the conversations about film and music, although brief, would have made great essays.
I am sure this book will do well. If you consider yourself a person who enjoys a good story and strong characters...skip it.
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Melissa This review echoed many of my feelings about this book. I couldn't help feeling that Chabon was trying to out-Franzen Franzen and it doesn't work. The four page long sentence about the parrot was ridiculous in a show-offy way. We know you can write, Chabon. You don't have to tackle the history of race, capitalism and gender differences in one book. Leave the big issues to Franzen and just tell us a story.


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