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.
Review: Of Mice and Men
By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work
Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar
What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?
Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings
The actor has confessed to his own insecurities
Allotments are the focus of a new reality show
Arts & Ents blogs
The best movies on Netflix: 32 films that will end your endless scrolling
'Sinful': Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy comes under attack
Record Store Day 2014: Best exclusives coming to a UK independent record shop near you
Grace Dent on TV: Game of Thrones has jumped the shark
Misheard song lyrics: Lady Gaga and Ozzy Osbourne's lyrics named hardest to understand
The food poverty scandal that shames Britain: Nearly 1m people rely on handouts to eat – and benefit reforms may be to blame
US Navy christens huge $3 billion destroyer ship USS Zumwalt that appears as a fishing boat on enemy radar
Scottish independence: It is the English who should be on their knees, begging the Scots to vote ‘No’
Nigel Farage fatigue? Half of voters ‘immune’ to Ukip’s appeal
Nigel Farage: I’m taking on the status quo, and the Establishment’s fighting back
Refugee facing deportation from Sweden saved by fellow passengers refusing to let plane leave
- 1 KFC 'sorry' after lesbian couple are kicked out of Bath restaurant for 'heavy petting'
- 2 Dylan Tombides: West Ham confirm 20-year-old striker has died after battle with cancer
- 3 24 people applied for the 'world's toughest job', here are their interviews
- 4 'Sinful': Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy comes under attack
- 5 Saudi Arabia declares all atheists are terrorists in new law to crack down on political dissidents