Part II has me hooked, line and sinker*. After reading everyone's posts last week, I approached Part II very differently than the first part of the book--notably, I did some research. I read about Telegraph Avenue, which is a real place in California, and made myself a glossary of characters for ease of reference (the mere act of writing them all down helped to sort them out, too). I read more slowly, in longer chunks (I read Part II in two long sittings), and took the time to re-read and appreciate Chabon's often stunning, mind-blowingly glorious sentences, often about the most mundane of subjects:
"At 9:45 A.M. the first batch of chicken parts sank, to the sound of applause, into the pig fat. The fat set about its great work, coaxing that beautiful Maillard reaction out of the seasoned flour, the smell of golden brownness mingling with the warm, dense, bay-leafy, somehow bodily funk of the beans, and with the summertime sourness of the greens like the memory of with Keds stained at the toes with fresh-cut grass. Nat stepped through the time portal that reached within the ring of seasoned iron. Riding the kitchen time machine."It is the beauty of these wonderfully crafted sentences, I think, that ultimately carries Chabon's story--he uses words in the most precise and careful way to illuminate what is most important. Here, it is the power of food to bring back a memory, and not just a specific memory, but an entire bank of memories, of a time, and a place, and a person, and a feeling. His descriptions elevate the food beyond food and into the realm of the surreal; Nat's fried chicken is not just a meal, but an invitation.
Similarly, Gwen's emotions flow through Chabon's words, her sorrow, her apologies, her bulk, her weight, her burdens, all standing proud and tall:
"'I'm sorry,' Gwen said again, and this time it was not an expression of regret for the things she had said or done but rather the opposite: Her apology was, as apologies so often are, fighting words. She was sorry only that she was not sorry at all."The simplicity of the statement is overwhelming; though Nat sees apologies as "a miracle of language. Cost you nothing and returned so richly," to Gwen, they are an impossibility. Nat is a white man, and can make mistakes and apologize for them; Gwen is a black woman, and cannot afford to make mistakes--nor apologize where no mistake was made.
Telegraph Avenue is proving to be a successful novel, thus far; Chabon has brought together the meta-issues of race, poverty, death and family into a cohesive, solid novel that is clipping along at a steady pace, now that I've figured out everyone's nicknames.
Also, hooray for Chabon's humor finally shining through for me:
"Pausing at the top of a fold-down stair for a display of freestyle looming, brother looked like a celebrity golfer or as if perhaps he had recently eaten a celebrity golfer."
HA!Spoilers (and What I'm Looking Forward to Next)
I was saddened to read of Cochise's sudden death, and surprised to find the unexpected Senator Obama on the pages (not sure I completely loved that, to be honest); I'm excited to move on to Parts III and IV and watch the story fully develop; to see Archy and Titus finally interact; to fit Luther Stallings into the puzzle of Dogpile Thang; to reassemble the broken pieces of Archy and Nat's friendship.
*I'm not sure one actually can modify the "hook, line and sinker" saying to "hooked, line and sinker" like I did just there.
Telegraph Avenue: Dream of Cream
Telegraph Avenue: The Cast (A Glossary of Characters)
NPR.org: Why Vinyl Sounds Better than CD, or Not.
Note: Thanks to the publisher for providing advance copies of this title for readalong participants.
Telegraph Avenue | Michael Chabon | Hardcover | 480 page | September 2012 | Pre-order from The Odyssey Bookshop or an independent near you