Length: 496 pages
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Source: TLC Book Tours
As the summer of 2004 draws to a close, Archy Stallings and Nat Jaffe are still hanging in there—longtime friends, bandmates, and co-regents of Brokeland Records, a kingdom of used vinyl located in the borderlands of Berkeley and Oakland. Their wives, Gwen Shanks and Aviva Roth-Jaffe, are the Berkeley Birth Partners, two semi-legendary midwives who have welcomed more than a thousand newly minted citizens into the dented utopia at whose heart—half tavern, half temple—stands Brokeland.
When ex–NFL quarterback Gibson Goode, the fifth-richest black man in America, announces plans to build his latest Dogpile megastore on a nearby stretch of Telegraph Avenue, Nat and Archy fear it means certain doom for their vulnerable little enterprise. Meanwhile, Aviva and Gwen also find themselves caught up in a battle for their professional existence, one that tests the limits of their friendship. Adding another layer of complication to the couples’ already tangled lives is the surprise appearance of Titus Joyner, the teenage son Archy has never acknowledged and the love of fifteen-year-old Julius Jaffe’s life.
Here’s what I thought:
Chabon is one of those writers who doesn’t let his readers off easy. He’s brilliantly creative and it shows in every line he writes, but it can take a while to get into his books because of the density of the language, imagery, and in the case of Telegraph Avenue, the cultural references. The book reads like a love letter to a Quentin Tarantino movie, and in fact two of the characters attend a film class based on the work of Tarantino. I couldn’t help but think it was Chabon’s sly way of tipping his hat to the likeness, which can only be seen as a compliment.
The characters are complicated and fascinating, and I loved Chabon’s portrayal of the Oakland neighborhood where they live and work. It’s a melting pot of different races and ethnicities with larger than life personalities and a rich history. I particularly loved the character of Gwen Shanks, a badass pregnant midwife, and Julius ‘Julie’ Jaffe, a geeky, gay teenager who loves sci-fi and martial arts and hands out personalized business cards. I enjoyed all the musical references, even though I’m not savvy enough to have caught most of them, and the overall good vibe feel of the book even when things go really wrong.
This is the kind of book that I would recommend to a very particular audience (like my pop-culture junkie brother) but also more generally to anyone who enjoys a good read because it is definitely that. It takes a while to adjust to Chabon’s writing style and I had to read more slowly than normal to be sure I caught everything, but I was soon caught up enough in the story to just go with the flow. It’s not always an easy book, but it is a smart and entertaining one with a lot of heart. Recommended.
Michael Chabon (b. 1963) is an acclaimed and bestselling author whose works include the Pulitzer Prize–winning novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (2000). Chabon achieved literary fame at age twenty-four with his first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh (1988), which was a major critical and commercial success. He then published Wonder Boys (1995), another bestseller, which was made into a film starring Michael Douglas. One of America’s most distinctive voices, Chabon has been called “a magical prose stylist” by the New York Times Book Review, and is known for his lively writing, nostalgia for bygone modes of storytelling, and deep empathy for the human predicament.
Thanks so much to Harper Perennial and TLC Book Tours for providing me with a copy of this book and giving me a chance to share my review.
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