Monday, October 12, 2009

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, by Michael Chabon

Politics, schmolitics, I'm writing what I want to write.

I just finished reading a few books and watching some movies, so I think I'll get started on a few reviews.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, by Michael Chabon

This is the best book I've read in a while. I quickly followed it up with a collection of essays by Chabon called Maps and Legends, about growing up, the creative impulse, boundaries, adventure, comics, writing, reading, and so on. Both are brilliant.

Chabon begins his collection of essays, Maps and Legends, with a bitter-ish treatise on the state of genre fiction. He believes all writing is for entertainment: “I read for entertainment, and I write to entertain. Period.” Fantasy, science fiction, detective, etc. All genres offer entertainment and insight, in varying degrees, and literature proper shouldn't have a monopoly on literary respect. He has stuck to his guns, producing a hard-boiled mystery (The Yiddish Policemen's Union) and a swashbuckling adventure in serial (Gentlemen of the Road) after his Pulitzer Prize-winning The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.

The amazing* Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is an epic American novel, spanning 16 years (1939-1955), in the lives of two Jewish cousins who meet in pre-war New York. Joe Kavalier escapes from the Nazis in Prague, makes his way to America, and with his cousin Sam Clay (anglicized from Klayman) collaborates on a brilliant Golden Age comic book, The Escapist. They also make small fortunes, fall in love, lose loved ones, then ostensibly fight more Nazis, and raise a family and fall in love all over again.

The origin of the Batman, from 1939. For a great intro to Batman, or any comic, check out this site.

I grew up reading comics, though none from the Golden Age**. First old Jonah Hex, ROM and Sgt. Rock comics that a family friend had; then the hero variety: X-Men, Wolverine, Spiderman and Batman; and finally darker, character-driven "adult"-oriented comics like John Constantine: Hellblazer, the Sandman, Preacher, and so on.

And while the subject matter is fairly dear to my heart (I still regularly read comics, but I don't buy many anymore), Kavalier & Clay is by no means a book about comics. Michael Chabon has done an amazing job of taking a childhood obsession for many of us and using it as a backdrop for a very human tale of heartache, loss, hope, amazement and love.

Chabon's writing fits everything in the book perfectly. There are sentences that are reminiscent of comic writing, Bam-Powing across the page. I wanted it to be a true story; indeed, Chabon has had people writing to him asking for information on the K&C's creation, the Escapist.

I am a little reluctant to recommend this to people that didn't grow up reading superhero comics, but if given half a chance it wraps you up in a world that you want to learn more about.

* I meant this first one. It is amazing.
** The late 1930s to late 1940s. From Wikipedia: "The period saw the arrival of the comic book as a mainstream art form, and the defining of the medium's artistic vocabulary and creative conventions by its first generation of writers, artists, and editors."

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