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Book Review: Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon

Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon is a literary fiction book in which the author jams so much in it’s a wonder the novel is not twice the size. Mr. Chabon is a Pulitzer prize winning author for his 2001 book The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.

Nat Jaffe and Archy Stallings are the owners of Brokeland Records, one of the few bastions of vinyl record stores left in Oakland, California, circa 2004. In comes Gibson Goode, ex-NFL star, multi-millionaire and entrepreneur who wants to open his Dogpile megastore in the area. The megastore will force Brokeland Records, who are struggling as it is, to close.

Nat’s wife, Aviva, and Archy’s wife, Gwen, are having their own struggles–they are midwives who have delivered thousands of babies until one delivery goes wrong and quickly turns ugly.

Telegraph Avenue is a strange book. If Quentin Tarantino wrote a book I’d imagined it would be something like this–better yet, if you had to read a Quentin Tarantino movie, it would be exactly like this. It’s a schizophrenic experience which will leave you dazed and somewhat confused until things will clear up a few pages down–only for the cycle to be repeated again and again.

The strangeness doesn’t come from the story, which is quite simple, but from the artful storytelling. There are many pop-culture references (including many to Tarantino himself), music, books, movies, TV shows, and some made-up references which only exist within the realm of the book.

While I do enjoy pop-culture references in my reading, the sheer amount made the book difficult to read, albeit enjoyable in its own unique way. I’m usually pretty good about estimating how long a book would take me to read, but this one took twice as long and could have easily been more than that.

So keep your favorite Internet search engine close by–you’ll need it.

That being said, the book is riddled with pop-culture and music. Many fine authors can write about pop-culture, but Chabon is the only one who can write music. Not writing “about” music, but writing music. When Chabon writes about a music passage, I could almost hear it in my head even though I had no idea what he was referring to. Whether it was or wasn’t what I heard doesn’t matter–I heard it.

Telegraph Avenue is a college professor’s dream. You can create a whole course around it with ease. The book sometimes goes into so many details it’s frustrating, but the observations about our culture and American lifestyles are encouraging and interesting. Of course, it could all be a smoke screen akin to, as Chabon says, “some Jewish dude trying to think like an ass-kicking soul sister.”

I felt the novel was too long (some of the descriptions seem to go on forever), yet despite a need for an editor, Chabon has managed to produce another good book with excellent prose. I thought that the 12-page sentence was a literary marvel which only few will try and even fewer can pull off successfully.

Telegraph Avenue is the perfect book to be an eBook, “e” as in enhanced. It almost seems like Chabon wrote it with a mind to create a multimedia experience one would never forget. While I enjoyed reading the book, it was hard–the prose, the references, the music and story all jumbled in my head–so take your time and enjoy the ride.

Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon

  • 480 pages
  • Publisher: Harper
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061493341

Buy this book in paper or electronic (Kindle) format

 

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