Nov 21, 12
Read in November, 2012
It took me a little while to fully lose myself in this big, densely packed novel about, basically, two families, one white, one black, whose lives, like the boulevard of the book's title, straddle Oakland and Berkeley, but that's mostly because Chabon's writing is so filled with out-of-left-field cultural allusions, wildly funny detours and subversions, jaw-droppingly dead-on observations about how people really behave--not to mention music, style, movies, fear, lust, anger, despair, joy--that it almost demands you stop, take a step back before starting the next sentence, and applaud the man's craft. Also, there were frustrating moments along the way where I just couldn't keep track of who was who, and to which of the many plot threads, which mostly all come together in the end, they belong. So Telegraph Avenue is not quite the gripping page-turner I wanted it to be, but there is so much good stuff here, so many interesting ideas, and there are long stretches of utter engagement, and the last several acts--say, the last 100 pages or so--are effortlessly, honestly emotional, that if you're a Chabon fan of any sort, you're likely to have a great time through most of this. The main characters are Archy and Nat, best friends and business partners in a used-vinyl store on Telegraph called Brokeland Records, which, though not a big money-maker by any stretch of the imagination, is nonetheless a beloved local hang for (mostly black) musicians and music geeks. Their wives, the very-pregnant Gwen and Aviva, are also best friends, as well as being partners in a thriving midwifery practice. Nat and Aviva's 15-year-old son, Julie, falls in love with angry black kid Titus, who turns out to be... well, I won't say. Archy's dad Luther is a former kung-fu champ and star of 1970s blaxploitation flicks whose life and career went south when booze and drugs took control; his father-figure is a jazz musician; his nemesis is the fifth richest black man in America who wants to build a "Thang" down the block from Brokeland, a kind-of black-culture mall which'll ruin Archy and Nat; his.... there's so much more here, but that's the basic cast, and the plot involves lots of conflict and resolution, which I won't go into. I laughed, I admired, I almost-cried. 4.5 stars.