Chabon Pulls a Dickens, But Nobody Told Me

I was introduced to Michael Chabon during my senior year of high school, I think. Mrs. Diamondstone, my beloved English teacher during 11th and 12th grade, had our class read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, which has become one of my favorite books, and one of the few Pulitzer Prize winners I’ve read that I believe actually deserved the award.

Since Kavalier and Clay, I’ve read Wonder Boys, Werewolves in Their Youth, and I’ve got Mysteries of Pittsburgh on my desk waiting for me to finally read. I really need to pick up Final Solution, and I’m more excited for The Yiddish Policeman’s Union than I am about the next Harry Potter. I adore Chabon. He’s my favorite living author, and second place isn’t particularly close.

So, imagine my surprise and horror when I read on Chabon’s Wikipedia page on Tuesday that he’s writing a serial novel that’s being published in The New York Times‘ magazine section every Sunday. Why didn’t anyone tell me, damnit? The serial, Gentlemen of the Road, started in late January. As of March 25th, 9 of the 15 parts have been published. As of this moment, I’ve read the first two parts, and as expected, I love them.

For the uninitiated, Chabon is a bit of a showoff as a writer. He has a large vocabulary and, I imagine, an excellent thesaurus. He has no qualms about going deeply “inside baseball”, which is a difficulty augmented by his latest run of writing. Chabon has, since 2002, abandoned the “contemporary, quotidian, plotless, moment-of-truth revelatory story”, which, again in his own words, is a “plotless story sparkling with epiphanic dew”. Basically, Chabon really doesn’t like all these books coming out that you hear people rave about, but when you ask them, “What’s it about?”, the best they can tell you goes something like, “Well, it’s a guy mucking about,” or, worse, “It’s about truth/finding yourself/growing up/etc”. Chabon wants to write stories.

Now, what’s that have to do with his writing? Well, he tends to use odd words–for spectacular effect, certainly, but odd all the same–and when he writes about something unusual, and he takes his already vast and unusual vocabulary with him… well, keep your dictionary handy when you read his books. They’re especially hard to begin. For instance, he is the opening to Gentlemen of the Road:

Kingdom of Arran, in the Caucasus Mountains, between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, A.D. 950 — For numberless years a myna had astounded travelers to the caravansary with its ability to spew indecencies in 10 languages, and before the fight broke out everyone assumed the old blue-tongued devil on its perch by the fireplace was the one who maligned the giant African with such foulness and verve. Engrossed in the study of a small ivory shatranj board with pieces of ebony and horn, and in the stew of chickpeas, carrots, dried lemons and mutton for which the caravansary was renowned, the African held the place nearest the fire, his broad back to the bird, with a view of the doors and the window with its shutters thrown open to the blue dusk.

Reading Chabon is like trying to push a car down a slight incline. You need to really dig in to get the thing movie, but once you’ve got momentum, you can really fly. I heartily recommend to you Gentlemen of the Road, as it’s a very talented author writing an AlexandreDumas kind of tale. Lots of fun and swashbuckingly and such. If you don’t care to pay to read the NY Times (and I don’t blame you), I promise his books are worth checking out.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Chabon Pulls a Dickens, But Nobody Told Me

  1. intotherabbithole

    Thanks for pointing this out… I’m a big Chabon fan too and haven’t heard anything about these stories in the Times. Also, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh is my favorite Chabon novel, so you shouldn’t be disappointed.

  2. Pingback: Mr Thursday's Book Shelf: The Final Solution « Mr. Thursday’s Curious Mechanism

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