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Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful:

December 18, 2001

I think I was having a bad day when I wrote my original review. So, after rereading the book, I'm back to rewrite my review. Probably no one but me will ever see it, but no matter. To start with, after reading quite a few Pulitzer winners, "Kavalier & Clay" was more than worthy of the honor. It is, in my humble opinion, the most original, satisfying, and well-written of any of the Pulitzer winners I have read.

The story naturally follows Josef (Joe) Kavalier and Samuel Klayman (Sammy Clay) as they achieve fame and glory during the "Golden Age" of comic books in the years before WWII. When the war breaks out, Joe goes off to fight in it, leaving behind his pregnant girlfriend, whom Sammy--a closet homosexual--marries. Joe comes back 12 years later, befriending his son and after a Senate hearing exposes Sammy's lifestyle, he leaves Joe and his wife Rosa behind.

The story is mostly good and the writing is superb. Both times I've read this book, I wanted to keep reading and reading; it just sucked me in. Chabon's writing style is at times a little overblown--sometimes I wish he would just get to the point already!--and ranges from witty to philosophical. The dialogue is sharp and the characters (while maybe a little warmed-over from Chabon's other novels) are well-rounded. That all said, a few things bothered me.

For me, the story falls apart after Joe goes off to war. My first question was that if Joe wanted to kill Nazis, why did he join the NAVY? Wouldn't the Army, Marines, or Army Air Corps better served his need for vengeance? Maybe he wanted to sink U-boats like the one that torpedoed the ship carrying his brother. Another minor question was why Joe rented space in the Empire State Building to live after he returns to New York. Wouldn't it have been cheaper (and less risk of eviction) to rent an apartment in the city somewhere?

The big question, the one that really bothers me is why Rosa married Sammy. The impression I got is that Rosa is a strong, independent woman, not the sort who would care if people would whisper about her being a single mother behind her back. Besides, she could have just said the father died in the war (which was almost true), which I doubt was a situation unique to her. To me, though, she seemed like the kind of person who would say, "my son doesn't need two parents, I can love him enough for both". Sammy and her father still could have helped raise Joe & Rosa's son. Maybe my impression of the character is wrong, or maybe Sammy convinced her to marry him because he didn't want the child to grow up without a father like he did. The problem is that WE DON'T KNOW because the marriage proposal is not detailed in the book, so we're left to draw our own conclusions. I think this is an issue central to the story (or at least the last third or so of it) and if I feel it's contrived by the author as a convenient plot device, that tarnishes my enjoyment of the book.

To be honest, I didn't like the last third or so as much as the first two-thirds, where Sammy and Joe are building the Escapist character (among others) while being cheated out of the money that's rightfully theirs by the greedy publisher. Everything after the war seems like a soap opera. I'm a little embarrassed to admit it, but it reminds of the movie, "Legends of the Fall" where Brad Pitt's character goes off after WWI and returns home years later to find his girl has married his brother. With the questions I mentioned earlier, I really couldn't enjoy this phase of the book much. And like "The Cider House Rules", I hate those disorienting big time shifts.

All that aside, the whole book is still much better than most everything else. I highly recommend escaping into Chabon's wonderful world.

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