Fourth Estate £18.99
Telegraph Avenue, By Michael Chabon
Songs for flawed fathers
Tim Walker is The Independent’s Los Angeles correspondent, covering entertainment and other concerns from the West Coast of the US. He was previously a features writer and the editor of the paper’s diary column. His first novel, Completion, is being published in January 2014.
Sunday 09 September 2012
Michael Chabon's new novel ought to come with a CD of essential listening, for those readers whose knowledge of jazz and soul is lacking. Its male protagonists, longtime friends and bandmates Archy Stallings and Nat Jaffe, run a used record store in Oakland, California, under threat from the megastore due to open mere blocks away. And everything in Telegraph Avenue is musical. Archy is "a hi-hat of regret, struck hard and resounding." Nat is "crooked as a finger on a guitar string, humming like a struck length of wire."
At times, the prose is so loaded with imagery that it overwhelms the action. In one two-paragraph stretch, the Stallings' marital tension is compared to weather; hoodie-wearing kids to popcorn servings; anger to an improvised explosive device; and a view to a painting. Chabon's language can be like free jazz, the tune obscured by a flurry of sounds, until it resolves again, and segues into a string of toe-tapping, complementary solos.
Those solos belong not just to Archy and Nat, but to their families: their wives Gwen and Aviva; and their sons, Julie and Titus, who have started a sexual relationship. Meanwhile, Archy's estranged father, an erstwhile blaxploitation star, loiters with intent in the book's background. There's even a cameo from a pre-presidential senator Barack Obama. (The story is set in 2004.)
Telegraph Avenue follows Chabon's adorable campus caper Wonder Boys, his masterful geek epic The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, and the gripping Jewish noir The Yiddish Policemen's Union. It's five years since that last novel proper, though he's published two books of essays and a short historical adventure for young adults in the interim. His last essay collection, Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father, and Son, undoubtedly informs the male characters of Telegraph Avenue. Indeed, its subtitle neatly sums up Archy's entire narrative. To his credit, Chabon doesn't mount a straightforward defence of the little guy versus The Man, and Nat and Archy's fierce, semi-rational affection for their ailing record store is entwined with their flaws as husbands and fathers.
Chabon's latest is neither as expansive and moving as Kavalier and Clay, nor as intriguingly eccentric as The Yiddish Policemen's Union. But like a favourite old jazz LP, it's richly pleasurable from beginning to end.
tv Jenny Lee may have left, but Miranda Hart and the rest of the midwives deliver the goods
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Christmas comes early to Hong Kong, as millions of bank notes spill out onto busy street
- 2 The 'Black Museum': After 150 years, public can visit police’s grisly crime museum
- 3 British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
- 4 Vagina canoe artist facing two years in jail defends herself over ‘obscenity’ charges
- 5 The Queen’s speech 2014: Recap and Twitter reaction to Game of Thrones reference
Felicity Jones on being Stephen Hawking's wife in The Theory of Everything: 'I didn't want her to be a saint'
EastEnders Christmas Day special, TV review: It's all about the Carters this Christmas - and Danny Dyer is brilliant
Game of Thrones season five: First preview clip shows a beardy Tyrion, a moody Cersei and a distressed Arya
Doctor Who: Jenna Coleman to stay on as Peter Capaldi’s assistant Clara Oswald in next series
The Interview finally gets US release after Sony hack and terror threats – but reviews of North Korea satire are mixed
British actor Idris Elba cannot star as James Bond because he is black, says shock jock Rush Limbaugh
Rozanne Duncan: Ukip expels councillor for 'jaw-dropping' comments made in BBC TV interview
Germany anti-Islam protests: 17,000 march on Dresden against 'Islamification of the West'
Ukip member gets into Christmas spirit with Union Flag plea to Santa 'for our country back'
BBC director Danny Cohen: Rising UK antisemitism makes me feel more uncomfortable than ever
Alex Salmond has 'broken his word to the Scottish people' says Scottish Lib Dem leader