A few days ago, I was messaging a dear friend about the work of novelist Michael Chabon, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, in 2001, for The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. Our messaging prompted me to remember reading and reviewing Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue in late-2012 / early-2013, and I found myself smiling at the recollection of what a romp it was – pure, unadulterated fun, and written in a seemingly effortless, thoroughly engaging style that could surely only have resulted from an abundance of talent combined with a perfectionist’s eye for precision. I thought it might be timely to share my review of Telegraph Avenue. And, in the meantime, I’ll be moving Kavalier & Clay closer to the top of my to-read pile – in anticipation of the anticipated release of Chabon’s next novel, Moonglow, due for release in November. Bring. It. On.
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue is a quirky, character-driven study of what it means to be a parent, spouse, friend and small business operator in suburban America at the start of the 21st Century.
Set in Oakland, California, in the summer of 2004, the novel explores the relationships between second-hand record store owners Archy Stallings, an African American, and Nat Jaffe, white and Jewish, and their wives Gwen Shanks and Aviva Roth-Jaffe, who run a home birth partnership.
When they learn that ‘the fifth richest black man in America’ plans to open a megastore with a vinyl records outlet nearby, Archy and Nat fear for their struggling enterprise, which relies on the patronage of colourful characters with a penchant for jazz, blues, funk and soul music (whose comings and goings greatly enhance the narrative).
Aviva and the heavily pregnant Gwen also encounter problems, as a complicated home birth looks likely to lead to a legal stoush, and Archy’s unacknowledged teenage son Titus arrives in town to captivate Aviva and Nat’s boy, Julius.
Add a corrupt councilman, Archy’s estranged father – a former ‘blaxploitation’ film star – and a back story linked to the Black Panthers, and the result is a dense, complex and immensely satisfying novel that will hold you spellbound. There’s even a timely cameo from a young Illinois senator named Barack Obama.
Telegraph Avenue, by Michael Chabon, is published by Fourth Estate
- Review originally published in Good Reading, February 2013. goodreadingmagazine.com.au