Belarius's Reviews > The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
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Mar 05, 2009

it was amazing
bookshelves: fiction-finished, literature, reviewed
Read in February, 2009

Michael Chabon's most famous (and Pulitzer-prize-winning) novel comes so preceded by a miasma of hype that it seemed, when cracking the book for the first time, impossible for the actual work to live up. Happily, this is one book that fully deserves the near-universal and almost fanatical praise it has often received.

In plain terms, it tells the story of a Brooklyn Jew and a Czech Jew (cousins) living in New York during a span ranging from pre-war to post-war America. This two-man team, composed of Sam Clay (the American, and a writer) and Joe Kavalier (a Czech artist trained in magic and escape artistry) join forces to create a comic book character named The Escapist, who stands in the golden-age superhero company of the likes of Superman and Batman. This collaboration is the foundation for their joint stories, as the inexorable currents of their lives are filled with triumph and tragedy.

The novel's central theme is that of "escape." Throughout, all of the characters seek fervently to escape from various difficulties, some beyond their control and some of their own creation. To go any further into the nature of those escapes (successful and otherwise) would rob the story of much of its impact, so I will say nothing more specific. The writing has considerable emotional power, and that forcefulness is all-the-more-powerful without a clear picture of what lies on the horizon. The structure and the ending are unpredictable going forward, but makes perfect sense looking back, a rare combination.

However, Chabon's writing is excellent precisely because of its ability to give us a sense of the future. Like an excellent soundtrack, Chabon's ability to use foreshadowing gives us hints about events about to take place. Nothing in the book is truly surprising (in that the reader is shocked when it happens) because Chabon hints at each twist as it unfolds. The result is a narrative that flows in a way that is deeply intuitive, even as it is also realistically chaotic.

It's probably the case that a certain Nerd contingent will feel as though the book is written especially for them (and some of the obtuse references Chabon presents are undeniably nerdy), but being completely ignorant of the world of comic books and pulp writing should present no difficulty to a mainstream reader. The focus is on the characters and their inner worlds, which are vibrant in their humanity. While comic books are uniquely suited to the themes of the novel, this is a book anyone can enjoy immensely, and everyone should.
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