Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

'Telegraph Avenue': A Soulful Love Song Michael Chabon, the Pride of Pittsburgh, Knocks One out the Ballpark with His Sweeping Novel of Bay Area Denizens

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

'Telegraph Avenue': A Soulful Love Song Michael Chabon, the Pride of Pittsburgh, Knocks One out the Ballpark with His Sweeping Novel of Bay Area Denizens

Article excerpt

"TELEGRAPH AVENUE"

By Michael Chabon.

Harper ($27.99).

Welcome to the department of cultural studies at Chabon University. I see you've chosen "Leisure Suits: An Appreciation," "The Philosophy of 'Blaxploitation' Films" and "The Origins and Inspirations of 1970s Music" as your courses. Quite ambitious. It could be fun or leave you asking, "What the hell ...?"

The syllabus for those and the dozens of other subjects examined, analyzed and celebrated by Michael Chabon is "Telegraph Avenue," his dazzling star turn of a novel that showcases the author's writing talents like a digital TV screen above Times Square.

Resembling Hall of Fame outfielder Roberto Clemente, who loved to show off his powerful throwing arm just for fun, the writer puts on a show for readers mostly because he can -- and because it must have been fun filling the pages with his encyclopedic love of pop culture.

It's not a casual hobby for Mr. Chabon, a University of Pittsburgh graduate who spent part of his teenage years here. He remembers every TV show, movie, album, comic book, trading card or car model from his youth (excuse the excess; Mr. Chabon's hyperbolic enthusiasm is habit-forming), but the very essence of his understanding of the world. Where Henry James focused on a moment of silence or a glance, Mr. Chabon interprets the sounds of a Hammond B3 on Carole King's "It's Too Late" or an old American Cinematographer magazine article on "Fitzcarraldo" to describe the texture of his characters' lives.

This torrent of information from the novelist's overflowing garage of pop culture is turned loose on the first page of "Telegraph Avenue" in the shabby quarters of Brokeland Records on the avenue that runs between Oakland and Berkeley, Calif., in 2004. Proprietors Archy Stallings (as in "Archy and Mehitabel"?) and Nat Jaffe are two middle-aged dudes with little ambition who enjoy the friendly buzz of conversation from the passers-by who are more interested in shooting the breeze than buying a Melvin Sparks solo album. The place was formerly a barbershop catering to African- Americans, a spot where conversation flowed nonstop, so the tradition continues. …

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