Monday, September 17, 2012

Telegraph Avenue

Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon
HarperCollins, 9/11/2012
Advanced Readers Edition, 480 pages
ISBN-13: 9780061493348

As the summer of 2004 draws to a close, Archy Stallings and Nat Jaffe are still hanging in there — longtime friends, bandmates, and co-regents of Brokeland Records, a kingdom of used vinyl located in the borderlands of Berkeley and Oakland. Their wives, Gwen Shanks and Aviva Roth-Jaffe, are the Berkeley Birth Partners, a pair of semi-legendary midwives who have welcomed, between them, more than a thousand newly minted citizens into the dented utopia at whose heart—half tavern, half temple—stands Brokeland Records.
When ex-NFL quarterback Gibson Goode, the fifth-richest black man in the United States, announces plans to build his latest Dogpile megastore on a nearby stretch of Telegraph Avenue, Nat and Archy fear it means certain doom for their vulnerable little enterprise. Meanwhile, Aviva and Gwen also find themselves caught up in a battle for their professional existence, one that tests the limits of their friendship. Adding another layer of complication to the couples' already tangled lives is the surprise appearance of Titus Joyner, the teenage son Archy has never acknowledged and the love of fifteen-year-old Julius Jaffe's life.

My Thoughts:

Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon follows two couples: Archy Stallings and Gwen Shanks, and Nat Jaffes and Aviva Roth-Jaffe. Archy and Nat run Brokeland Records, a vintage record store, while Gwen and Aviva are the Berkeley Birth Partners, and work together as midwives. Archy and Gwen are black, in the mostly black neighborhood, while Nat and Aviva are white and Jewish. Telegraph Avenue is set in Berkeley, California, and is named after the road that divides Oakland and Berkeley. 

While there are several things taking place all at once in the plot of Telegraph Avenue,  one event is that former quarterback-turned-entrepreneur Gibson “G Bad” Goode is planning to open a mega-mall called a Dogpile “Thang” emporium in the neighborhood, which would put Brokeland Records out of business. At the same time the existence of Berkeley Birth Partners is being threatened by legal problems as a result of a difficult delivery being moved to the hospital.  Additionally, adding to this already stressful mixture is Gwen's impending birth, Luther Stallings (Archie's father, a former blaxploitation movie star) conniving plans, the arrival of Titus (a teenage son Archy didn't know he had), and several other supporting characters in the various plot threads.

Telegraph Avenue is about fathers and sons, families, partners, mentors, race, class, love, friendship, commitment, marriage, medicine. All of this is accompanied by the backbeat of a substantial musical soundtrack and bountiful cultural references, resulting in a vibrant, satisfying and richly layered novel. It is profound and witty, serious and humorous. It is a completely enjoyable novel. I found two drawbacks in Telegraph Avenue: there are several sexual encounters that were unappealing and the amount of swearing seemed excessive - but that is likely because it would not be a normal choice of language for me. 

Any review of a novel by Chabon should probably include at least a mention of his love of language and the virtuosity of his writing. Almost every sentence he writes is a labor of love - lyrical, complete, and totally remarkable. Perhaps the best example of this is the one sentence that went on for almost 12 pages. (I will admit that once I realized the sentence was still ongoing, after several pages, then this became distracting until I looked ahead to find the end of the sentence before going back and actually finishing reading it.)

When asked about the construction of his sentences in an NPR interview Chabon said:

"Sentences are the purest, simplest, most pleasurable part of writing for me. And it's the part that comes the easiest to me. It is frequently the case that I, as I am sitting and writing ... the harbinger of the sentence kind of begins to occur to me in a sort of empty, rhythmic form that has no real meaning yet ... And, you know, instantaneously afterwords, the sense of the sentence fills in that empty vessel and I'm just struggling to kind of keep up with it and get it down. But there are plenty of other times where I am just really working and working and working and working and ... I trample on that initial, beautiful, mystical sentence that emerged ... and I have to try to keep fixing it and tinkering with it. And, you know, I love that aspect of it: the shaping of sentences, the crafting of sentences, that's the fun part of writing for me."

I Very Highly Recommend Telegraph Avenue.

 Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher and TLC for review purposes. 

Michael Chabon is the bestselling and Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Wonder Boys, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Summerland (a novel for children), The Final Solution, The Yiddish Policemen's Union, and Gentlemen of the Road; as well as the short story collections A Model World and Werewolves in Their Youth; and the essay collections Maps and Legends and Manhood for Amateurs. He is the Chairman of the Board of the MacDowell Colony. He lives in Berkeley, California, with his wife, the novelist Ayelet Waldman, and their children.


Michael’s Tour Stops

Tuesday, September 11th: Layers of Thought
Wednesday, September 12th: The Year in Books
Thursday, September 13th: Book Him Danno!
Friday, September 14th: The Scarlet Letter
Monday, September 17th: she treads softly
Tuesday, September 18th: Book Addict Katie
Wednesday, September 19th: Iwriteinbooks’s blog
Thursday, September 20th: The House of the Seven Tails
Monday, September 24th: Dreaming in Books
Tuesday, September 25th: The Written World
Wednesday, September 26th: The Feminist Texican [Reads]
Thursday, September 27th: An Unconventional Librarian
Monday, October 1st: The Book Garden
Tuesday, October 2nd: Man of La Book
Wednesday, October 3rd: The Well-Read Wife
Thursday, October 4th: Lit and Life
Friday, October 5th: Book Club Classics!


Jeanne said...

Huh. I didn't realize this one was going on a blog tour. I love that parrot chapter, though, and how full of allusion this novel is.

Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours said...

I'm so glad that you loved this book (in spite of your minor complaints). Thanks for being on the tour! I'm featuring your review on TLC's Facebook page today.

Man of la Book said...

I love that quote about sentences.

Great review, I'm on the tour as well, glad you enjoyed the book.