Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Book Review: Telegraph Avenue
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 more than a thousand newly minted citizens into the dented utopia at whose heart—half tavern, half temple—stands Brokeland.
When ex–NFL quarterback Gibson Goode, the fifth-richest black man in America, 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 complications 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.
There’s just too much to cover here in one book review, so I’m going to summarize a few things I liked and disliked about the book, and let y'all decide for yourself.
First, Michael Chabon is a very talented writer. He has such a gift for language, and every sentence he writes really paints a picture for the reader. This necessitates slow reading, but oftentimes it’s worth it. He also creates very compelling characters, even if they’re nothing like anybody you know. Most of the characters in this book were absolutely nothing like the people I know, and yet I felt like I got a glimpse into their heads through his writing. I also thought that the setting of the novel, Telegraph Avenue, was an interesting choice. Telegraph Avenue is a street that begins in Oakland, California, a historically African American town, and ends at the University of California, Berkeley campus, which has a decidedly different demographic. Chabon semi-successfully explores the dichotomy that this street represents, with thought-provoking results.
Now, the book wasn’t perfect. First off, it was long. I’m not at all opposed to reading long books, but this one seemed unnecessarily, willfully long. Did I mention the 11-page sentence? Also, the language is insanely, intensely detailed, which is sometimes a blessing and sometimes a curse. Every page is so laden with metaphor and description that at points it felt like a hindrance to the forward movement of the plot. I recommend reading this book for the language, not the plot, and with a healthy dose of patience. It’s the kind of book that you could put down and then pick back up two weeks or two months later and continue reading. If that’s your kind of novel, go ahead and give it a try.
Disclosure: TLC Book Tours provided me with a complimentary copy of this book to review. The opinions and views are all mine.