Review | Tuesday 21 August 2012
Pulitzer Prize-winning American writer Michael Chabon’s latest novel is an epic of the ordinary and the in-between. Archy and Nat are co-owners of Brokeland Records, a used vinyl store located on the titular East Bay avenue between Berkeley and Oakland. Their wives, Gwen and Aviva, are the Berkeley Birth Partners, a pair of local midwives.
Set against the desperate, hopeful background of pre-Obama America, Telegraph Avenue observes the precarious nature of its characters’ everyday lives as they navigate the borderlands of race, gender, sexuality, economy and personal history.
The novel’s two main narrative threads – dudes in a record store on the verge of shutting down, midwives negotiating the politics of home-births, hospitals, doctors and women’s bodies – are at times conflicting and disparate, but will hold something special for all readers as Chabon weaves a story that will ensnare and entertain.
His sentences are at once sharp, loose and messy, sprawling and sometimes hard to follow, like a jazz solo. At the end of Telegraph Avenue’s ‘A’ side the turntable spins on, playing out a single, sprawling sentence that lasts for 12 pages. But, soon enough, the record is flipped, and the story charges on, keeping a steady pace, pregnant with rich, evocative descriptions that are equal parts self-deprecating Jewish humour and 1970s jive-talking sass.
Telegraph Avenue will appeal to readers who enjoyed Wonder Boys and The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, as well as Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity and Jonathan Lethem’s The Fortress of Solitude. Its themes will be familiar to readers of Chabon’s recent work – flying machines, a talking parrot and that sense of overwhelming nostalgia, grief and loss that motivates all of his male characters.
Amy Vuleta works as a bookseller at Readings St Kilda.