Telegraph Avenue

By Michael Chabon

(HarperCollins, $27.99, 480 pages)

Who is this author?

With a Pulitzer Prize to his credit, and an envied reputation for writing novels in a vivid voice, Michael Chabon is one of our best (and best-selling) contemporary authors. His books include  the novels “The Mysteries of Pittsburgh,” “Wonder Boys,” “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay” (the Pulitzer winner) “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union” and more, the short story collections “A Model World” and “Werewolves in Their Youth” and the essay collections “Maps and Legends” and “Manhood for Amateurs.” Based in Berkeley, Calif., he is married to the novelist Ayelet Waldman.

What is this book about?

Race, pop culture, women’s issues, love in its many varieties and the fate of a used record store in a changing world are the ingredients of “Telegraph Avenue.” Set on the borderline between African American Oakland and Yuppie/hippie/lefty Berkeley, it’s about the friendship and business partnerships of a black and a Jewish couple: the men, Archy and Nat, own Brokeland Records, a vinyl haven and de facto community center whose existence is threatened by a soon-to-be-built megastore owned by a wealthy black former football star, which would offer jobs to a needy neighborhood but will also change its nature, probably for the worst. The women, Gwen and Aviva, are sought-after midwives whose practice falls into jeopardy after an ill-fated birth. Their sons, Nat’s Julie and Archy’s previously unknown Titus, have a relationship, too, and Archy is on the outs with his former blaxpoitation film star dad, Luther, who has a Black Panther past. Chabon sets this melange of characters and clashes in the time of the Kerry-Bush election, shakes it up and lets it rip.

Why you’ll like it:

This man can write. He proved that to me with his delicious and delirious “Yiddish Policeman’s Union,” set in a Jewish outpost in Alaska (don’t ask, just read it), and he does it again here. He’s got one sentence that goes on for 12 pages, among other virtuoso feats, an encyclopedic knowledge of music on vinyl and Marvel comics and a way with words and dialogue that leaves readers astounded. Chabon is one of the most creative and inventive authors writing today, and some – albeit not all — reviewers are already murmuring “great American novel” in their assessments of “Telegraph Avenue.”

What others are saying:

Michiko Kakutani, writing in The New York Times, says: “ …an amazingly rich, emotionally detailed story that addresses [Chabon's] perennial themes—about fathers and sons, husbands and wives, and the consolations of art—while reaching outward to explore the relationship between time past and time present, the weight (or lightness, as the case may be) of history, and the possibility of redemption and forgiveness…Mr. Chabon can write about just about anything…And write about it not as an author regurgitating copious amounts of research, but with a real, lived-in sense of empathy and passion…for the most part he does such a graceful job of ventriloquism with his characters that the reader forgets they are fictional creations. [Chabon's] people become so real to us, their problems so palpably netted in the author’s buoyant, expressionistic prose, that the novel gradually becomes a genuinely immersive experience—something increasingly rare in our ADD age.”

“A genuinely moving story about race and class, parenting and marriage…Chabon is inarguably one of the greatest prose stylists of all time, powering out sentences that are the equivalent of executing a triple back flip on a bucking bull while juggling chain saws and making love to three women,” says Esquire.

Library Journal says: “If any novelist can pack the entire American zeitgeist into 500 pages, it’s Chabon. Here, he deftly treads race, class, gender, and generation lines, showing how they continue to define us even as they’re crossed. …VERDICT: Ambitious, densely written, sometimes very funny, and fabulously over the top, here’s a rare book that really could be the great American novel. Highly recommended.”

“An end-of-an-era epic celebrating the bygone glories of vinyl records, comic-book heroes and blaxploitation flicks in a world gone digital. The novelist, his characters and the readers who will most love this book all share a passion for popular culture and an obsession with period detail. …the plot involves generational relationships between two families, with parallels that are more thematically resonant than realistic…The plot encompasses a birth and a death against the backdrop of the encroachment of a chain superstore…Yet the warmth Chabon feels toward his characters trumps the intricacies and implausibilities of the plot, as the novel straddles and blurs all sorts of borders: black and white, funk and jazz, Oakland and Berkeley, gay and straight….” says Kirkus Reviews.

When is it available?

You can find “Telegraph Avenue” at the Downtown Hartford Public Library or at its  Albany, Camp Field and Mark Twain branches.

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