Magazine article World Literature Today

Telegraph Avenue

Magazine article World Literature Today

Telegraph Avenue

Article excerpt

Michael Chabon. Telegraph Avenue. New York. Harper. 2012. isbn 9780061493348

Michael Chabon's novel Telegraph Avenue, on a basic level, is about work life and home life in Oakland, California. Longtime friends Archy and Nat own Brokeland Records, a hole-inthe- wall record store that specializes in jazz. They are trying to keep their business alive as a "Dogpile megastore" readies to open near them. Archy and Nat are devotees to a dying product from a bygone age. Similarly, Gwen and Aviva-Archy and Nat's spouses, respectively-are devotees to the dying field of midwifery. As a birth goes wrong, they must battle to keep their privileges with a hospital, at which a racist doctor derides their profession as "voodoo."

On the domestic side of things, there are marital spats, absent fathers, a homosexual son, and, not surprisingly, childbirth, all of this underpinned by questions of race- Archy and Gwen are black; Aviva and Nat are white-and sex that add a weight that Chabon, for the most part, handles aptly. Particularly excelling when writing about family, Chabon can mold beautiful descriptions, crafting images in a way that is simultaneously unique yet familiar, and his ability to use these descriptions to cause the reader to reflect on some of the most intimate parts of life is among the best of today's fiction writers.

Unfortunately, at some point in his life it seems Chabon was told that he is a good describer, and he took the compliment too much to heart. At times he describes to the point of annoyance. This happens in particular on the business side of things, because in order to give what he perceives as an accurate feel of working at a record store, he has to name every jazz musician that ever played; or in order to get to the heart of actors in kung-fu films-one of the many divergences in a complicated but well-thoughtout plot-he has to mention every kung-fu fighter that ever threw a roundhouse kick. …

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