Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Michael Chabon - The Final Solution ***

When I read The Mysteries of Pittsburgh in college, I thought Michael Chabon was a hack to end all hacks. The story was interesting enough, but it was such an ill-representative slice of Pittsburgh that it pained me to think that he could title it as he did. I even went to the extent of dedicating a photography series of mine to the idea of capturing what I considered the "real" Mysteries of Pittsburgh.

So I am glad to say that The Final Solution is nothing at all like the Pitt alumnus' debut novel. Actually, none of his work these days is. He's delved deep into a class of genre fiction few others could manage; a class more literary than most of the literary fiction that is currently being churned out, yet still adventurous enough to stay surprisingly outside tradition. I still can't look at Mysteries without cringing, but I am excited out of my mind to read the copy of The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay that I picked up the last time I was at the book store.

The Final Solution really represents a defining pivot in Chabon's style, breaking completely from his first two novels, not even existing in a real or original world. Though it is never stated outright, it is readily apparent that the books is the last mystery of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's famous deerstalker-capped detective, Sherlock Holmes. In essence, what Chabon is writing in the brief novella is a work of fan fiction, but he does so with such grace and precision of his own, masterfully developed voice, that it seems like Holmes was really his all along.

The mystery itself is interesting, but it seems of little consequence in the grand scheme of the story, much like Doyle's stories themselves. The mysteries that he always presented Holmes always seemed to be more exercises for the development of the detective's character than puzzles the reader was actually expected to be able to solve. Now spread over more than a hundred pages, we learn far more about the "old man" (as Chabon refers to the aging detective) than we do about much of the mystery. There is only the slimmest chance that we could actually figure out the mystery on our own--but then if we could, would the skills of such a master of detection really be needed? Holmes is the star of his stories, and in Chabon's exploration of his character, he most certainly remains the focus.

I only wish that the end of the book didn't feel so disjointed. To reveal completely what I mean would be to ruin the ending, but leave it be said that the switching of narrators borders on almost too fantastical. It's an interesting touch, but I just don't know if it feels right. I also have some issues with the clarity and purpose of the final scene, but perhaps I'm just not educated enough to catch all of what is going on.

Still, it is a fine piece of fiction and definitely worth the hour or two it will take you to fly through it. Chabon's prose is absolutely top-notch and the story is as exciting as any of the other Sherlock Holmes mysteries--only with a new twist and the best fleshing out of the world's favorite detective we've seen yet. Chabon on genre is a Chabon I can get behind.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Off to New Zealand

That's right, the time has come and I'm off to New Zealand for three weeks. Right now I'm sitting in a broken down RV behind Roadtrip Productions in Costa Mesa, California debating going on a sunset bike ride. The weather is beautiful, the people are surprisingly nice, and I haven't showered in two days. Thursday evening I'll finally leave for Auckland, but until then I'll be learning about the camera equipment and enjoying the California sun. And of course, I'm going to continue blogging! But it won't be here (Blogger is a bitch for uploading photos), so if you want to keep track of my trip, check out my new and improved photoblog:

The Hypermagic Kiwiphase

I'll be updating it whenever I can, which should be pretty often, so you can feel like you're actually here with me! All the grit and grime and beauty of the trip will be right at your fingertips. Woo-hoo!