Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Review: Telegraph Avenue ~ by Michael Chabon

Telegraph Avenue

It’s release day and we have a review by John for: Telegraph Avenue ~ by Michael Chabon

A mini family epic set against the backdrop of the California Bay Area, jazz and soul music, and changes in local society. The story even manages to embrace kung fu, Blaxploitation movies and the Black Panther movement!

About: Brokeland Records is a store on Telegraph Avenue on the border of Berkeley and Oakland, specializing in used vinyl and focused on jazz and soul music. Run by two long-time buddies, Nat (who is white) and Archy (who is black), the store is so much more than a record shop – it’s a multi-cultural center of gravity for many locals who gather there, chew the fat, and generally hang out. While it always totters on the edge financially, it is very much a labor of love for the music-loving Nat and Archy.

They are also bound together outside of Brokeland, as their wives are both midwives and are partners in Berkeley Birth Partners, which over the years has helped many hundreds of local women to give birth in their own homes – much to the chagrin of some local doctors who want to see all births take place within hospitals.

Now their bumpy, somewhat chaotic but somewhat steady lives are rocked on several fronts. An ex-NFL star, who is the fifth richest black man in the US, is planning on opening a megastore on Telegraph Avenue which would almost certainly mean doom for Brokeland Records; Berkeley Birth Partners is faced with legal action and professional ruin; Nat’s fragile teenage son falls in love with an itinerant black boy who turns out to be Archy’s long-lost (and never acknowledged) son; and an eccentric man, who is the closest thing to a real father that Archy ever had, unexpectedly dies. Can’t get any worse? Then Archy’s real father turns up – he’s a total deadbeat who used to be a kung fu expert and starred in third-rate Blaxploitation movies, and he’s after something.

John’s thoughts: This is a heck of a book – an interesting story, a complex many-threaded plot, many dashes of wry humor, and some well-constructed and complicated characters. The main characters are by no means perfect – they have all too many human flaws, but you can’t help liking them (mostly) and you do want things to end up well for them.

Chabon is clearly someone who knows the Berkeley/Oakland area well and has a deep affinity for it. He includes lots of local detail and color, and clearly has fears and hopes about how the area is developing. Likewise he must be a huge fan of the music that Brokeland Records sells, and the book has a multitude of musical references. Actually, I did find that sometimes the deep attachment to the location and the music got in the way a bit – as some of the references and colloquialisms were a bit lost on me.

I like the way that Chabon brings in lots of different plot elements, including local politics, cultural tensions, family/generational tensions and (even!) the Black Panther movement. These are all intertwined with the main storylines, and it gives the book an almost epic feel.

A word on the writing style – at times I found the wording and syntax tough, and had to re-read many of the sentences. This got easier as I progressed through the book, but it did slow me down and didn’t help with the pacing. Nonetheless, I’d rate this four stars and recommend it to anyone who likes to read meaty novels about complex family and social tensions, especially those with a musical and multi-cultural backdrop.

Michael Chabon

Read (ARC edition); General Published Edition: Harper (September 11, 2012) 480 pages.

Michael Chabon is the bestselling and Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, A Model World, Wonder Boys, Werewolves in Their Youth, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Summerland (a novel for children), The Final Solution, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, Maps and Legends,and Gentlemen of the Road.

He lives in Berkeley, California, with his wife, the novelist Ayelet Waldman, and their children. Website | Facebook

tlc logo

This review is part of a book tour.

For more information and reviews click on TLC’s tour badge and it will take you to the designated page for Michael Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue tour.

Several Other Up-coming Tour Stops for the Book

Wednesday, September 12th: The Year in Books

Thursday, September 13th: Book Him Danno!

Friday, September 14th: The Scarlet Letter


NancyO said...

Nice review. I felt exactly the same way -- loved the story, especially the characters, but I had some issues with the writing style at times. Thank you!

John D said...

Hi Nancy,

Thanks for the kind words.

I think Cochise Jones was my favorite character, but all the characters were really interesting. It was tough to love Archy, but he did at least have many redeeming features. Cheers,


Blodeuedd said...

Ohh Chabon! I did not know he had a new book out. A friend LOVED...hm, his boo..>Clay? Anyway long title, and I had to read it and liked it too

John D said...

Hi Blodeuedd,

Thanks for stopping by. I think this is definitely one that will appeal to existing fans - from what I can tell this is written in a similar style to his other books, and there has been a bit of a gap since his last publication date.

If you do get around to it, I hope you like it. Cheers,


Heather J. @ TLC Book Tours said...

I'm glad you enjoyed this one overall.

Thanks for being on the tour! I'm featuring your review on TLC's Facebook page today.

Unknown said...

Thank you Heather -
John enjoyed the book!

Man of la Book said...

I enjoyed the book as well (I'm on the tour also http://manoflabook.com/wp/?p=6537), even though I thought that in some place it was difficult to read.

John D said...

Hi "Man",

Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I liked your review - nice blog. Cheers,


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