TELEGRAPH AVENUE by Michael Chabon
Best of 2012
Kirkus Star

TELEGRAPH AVENUE

KIRKUS REVIEW

An end-of-an-era epic celebrating the bygone glories of vinyl records, comic-book heroes and blaxploitation flicks in a world gone digital.

The novelist, his characters and the readers who will most love this book all share a passion for popular culture and an obsession with period detail. Set on the grittier side in the Bay Area of the fairly recent past (when multimedia megastores such as Tower and Virgin were themselves predators rather than casualties to online commerce), the plot involves generational relationships between two families, with parallels that are more thematically resonant than realistic. Two partners own a used record store that has become an Oakland neighborhood institution, “the church of vinyl.” One of the partners, Archy Stallings, is black, and he is estranged from his father, a broken-down former B-movie action hero, as well as from the teenage son he never knew about who has arrived in Oakland from Texas to complicate the plot. The other partner is Nat Jaffe, white and Jewish, whose wife is also partners with Archy’s wife in midwifery (a profession as threatened as selling used vinyl) and whose son develops a crush on Archy’s illegitimate son. The plot encompasses a birth and a death against the backdrop of the encroachment of a chain superstore, owned by a legendary athlete, which threatens to squash Archy and Nat’s Brokeland Records, all amid a blackmailing scheme dating back to the Black Panther heyday. Yet the warmth Chabon (The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, 2000, etc.) feels toward his characters trumps the intricacies and implausibilities of the plot, as the novel straddles and blurs all sorts of borders: black and white, funk and jazz, Oakland and Berkeley, gay and straight. And the resolution justifies itself with an old musicians’ joke: “ ‘You know it’s all going to work out in the end?’ ” says one character. “ ‘No....But I guess I can probably fake it,’ ” replies another.

The evocation of “Useless, by James Joyce” attests to the humor and ambition of the novel, as if this were a Joyce-an remix with a hipper rhythm track.

Pub Date: Sept. 11th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-06-149334-8
Page count: 480pp
Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2012




BEST FICTION OF 2012: THE TOP 25:

Fiction HOPE: A TRAGEDY by Shalom Auslander
by Shalom Auslander
Fiction BLASPHEMY by Sherman Alexie
by Sherman Alexie
Fiction KINGDOM COME by J.G. Ballard
by J.G. Ballard
Fiction LAZARUS IS DEAD by Richard Beard
by Richard Beard

MORE BY MICHAEL CHABON

NonfictionMANHOOD FOR AMATEURS by Michael Chabon
by Michael Chabon
FictionGENTLEMEN OF THE ROAD by Michael Chabon
by Michael Chabon
FictionTHE YIDDISH POLICEMEN’S UNION by Michael Chabon
by Michael Chabon

SIMILAR BOOKS SUGGESTED BY OUR CRITICS:

FictionWONDERKID by Wesley Stace
by Wesley Stace
FictionHIGH FIDELITY by Nick Hornby
by Nick Hornby
NonfictionON CELESTIAL MUSIC by Rick Moody
by Rick Moody