Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I was so looking forward to this book. After the over-the-top suspense of The Yiddish Policemen's Union and the bittersweet comic book epic The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, I was hoping for more fine writing set in the California music world. Boy am I disappointed.
First, the cast is too big. There are really six main characters (four too many) and they are all supporting characters for each other, along with the other (even more!) supporting characters. Thankfully, Chabon does a reasonable job of making them distinct individuals. I found it difficult to pick one to identify with for the duration of the story.
Second, the prose suffers from authoritis. It's just too much. I like it when an author spends some time choosing their words and constructing beautiful sentences. It gives life and adds poetry to what can become dull deliberation. But there was so much of this here that it felt like Chabon was just showing off.
Third, the large cast meant that there were too many plots. Each of the main characters had a life changing situation to deal with and most had sub-plots. Chabon may have been going for realism here, but this is a novel and too much realism makes the story lack focus. It feels jumpy and full of vignettes, rather than a continuous stream. Perhaps that what the author wanted, but I didn't like it.
Fourth, there were too many side-trips to nowhere. I don't need the complete backstory of every mother the midwife tends to. I don't need President Obama popping up at a party for no good reason.
On the other hand, there is a richness to this writing that immerses you into record shop and the apartments and the cafes and the warehouses these people inhabit. If you have the time to spend meandering through this world, you may be rewarded. But if you don't have patience for it, you may just be frustrated.
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