The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
Keeping in the 1940’s theme for today, Michael Chabon’s Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (2000) is a grand novel set in New York City in the late 1930’s and early 40’s, as war approached. Kavalier and Clay are two cousins who make it big in the “golden age of comics”, with their hero The Escapist and other titles.
Chabon is a clever writer, and he tells the story in a complex weave of viewpoints, flashback, explanatory prose. The material is a blend of history and imaginative fictional history, by which he evokes the period.
The world is a mess in 1937, with many horrors and we know more are to come. But at this time, the comic book achieved its first great fluorescence, offering “escape” for many.
The story gyrates between joy and disaster, hope and depression, young love and horror. Honestly, it is exhausting.
The story touches on many themes of contemporary important: prejudice (jews are still prohibited from some schools, jobs, etc.) and sexuality (homosexuality is illegal and subject to lynching), and so on.
The story reads urgently today where it deals with the plight of refugees, neglected and refused asylum, and ultimately left to die in the camps. It’s brutal and compelling and makes you furious at the world for its cruelty.
The characters are, of course, compelling and interesting. I have to say that many times I wanted to whap them upside the head. “She loves you , idiot!” “He wants you more than anything, fool!” “Don’t throw away love!” Sheesh! Get a grip, guys.
This book won the Pulitzer prize in 2001. It’s good, but I’m not sure why it’s prize worthy.
In his afterward, Chabon dances around the question of a sequel, suggesting he might do a follow up set in the 1970s—the “bronze age” of comics.
Reading this remark from, I have to wonder if his Telegraph Avenue (2012) may be that project. Not a sequel, but a similar spirit.
I picked up K&C because I liked Telegraph Avenue, but for my money, Telegraph Avenue is way better than K&C. It’s more fun to read, more interesting characters, and better written. Granted, Berkeley is more interesting than NYC, and its about my own times.
- Michael Chabon, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, New York, Random House, 2000.
Sunday Book Review