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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Michael Chabon - The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay *****

How do you end what may be the most important, most critically acclaimed, most all-encompassing novel of our generation? How do you possibly figure out what is powerful enough to be the last sentence of one of the most important pieces of literary fiction to be penned in the last fifty years? What could possibly close a novel of such magnitude satisfactorily?

I have no idea. And that is why I can't fault Michael Chabon despite my dislike for the abrupt end of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. Perhaps it isn't a perfect book--but could anything so deftly reflecting real life be? Life is not perfect. There are boring swells along with those tidal crashings of adventure and emotion. So even when I wasn't feeling the most involved with Joe's adventures in Antarctica and just wishing he'd grow up and come home, I still was in love with his character enough to wish that he'd grow up and come home. I didn't like him being in Antartica because I felt like it was an escape from the reality of the book--just like it was an escape for Joe from his own reality. Chabon is a master of fitting his form to his content.

So how can I give anything less than a perfect rating to a novel that so perfectly captures not only a story but an entire cultural climate? The sheer volume of the book is staggering, let alone its literary weight. Chabon continues to write the stories of people we know, like Art in The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, but now has developed the ability to blow them up to superhuman size, pun completely intended. Kavalier & Clay represents something of a cultural comic book to its readers, steeped in meta-fictional consequences. The book is about comics--a medium of exaggeration and idealism--but is told in a story that stretches itself over exaggeration and idealism itself, making us look more deeply into the importance of comics themselves. What are they, if not reflections of the world around them through the lens of a writer trying to make sense of it all. Is Chabon the comic writer here? The levels of reflection found in this novel are enough to convince you that you're trapped in a philosophical house of mirrors.

Chabon has grown so much as a writer since his first publication in 1988, and I've grown to love him. As I read Kavalier & Clay during my trip to New Zealand, I often got characters in the book and in real life confused, mixing up the stories they told. It is something that happens to me in the best of books that I read, and as foolish as it may make me, it proves just how engrossing the book really is. John Gardner called successful fiction writing the creation of "a vivid and continuous dream," a statement that Chabon delivers well on. I just don't know where he can go from here. There is virtually no way for him to go bigger, and he'll have trouble going much better. Still, I'm sure to pick up each book that gets put on the shelf with his name on it so that I can live the story he has to spin.

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