Telegraph Avenue is Michael Chabon’s latest novel. I’ve read two others by him: The Yiddish Policemen’s Union and the entertaining but less interesting serial novel Gentlemen of the Road. He is an astonishing writer. Quit reading this stupid post and download one of his books.
That said, I didn’t like Telegraph Avenue as much as The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, which I thought was utterly brilliant. It’s about black and Jewish folks just getting by in the Oakland of 2004. Two men run a marginally profitable used record store threatened by a superstore that may be built nearby. Their wives are midwives struggling to keep their practice going in the face of opposition from hospitals who don’t want them doing home births. All the characters are wonderfully comic and sympathetic. Their lives are described in rich detail. I don’t know how Chabon does it.
Still, at 465 pages the book feels overstuffed and somewhat exhausting. While I willingly gave myself up to the strange alternate universe of The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, I wasn’t especially interested in the extensive, loving descriptions of 70s black music and films that is central to the book. Your mileage may vary.
A couple of other points:
Telegraph Avenue is best read on an ebook reader with a built-in dictionary. If you’re like me, you’ll find yourself looking up a lot of words — Chabon’s range of vocabulary is spectacular. I’m not a foodie, so I don’t feel too bad not knowing lavash and turmeric. But I figure I should have known a lot of his other words — clabber and selvage, for example. I know ’em now.
Finally this was the first book I’ve come across where the author credited the hardware and software used to create it: “This novel was written using Scrivener on Macintosh computers.” Modern times.