Monday, June 22, 2009

#86 - "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay" by Michael Chabon

I think that, like most people, my impressions of a book depend a lot on my expectations. For instance, by the time I finally read Twilight, my expectations were so low that it would have been difficult for me to be disappointed. The opposite is true for award-winning books. Some of my favorite books that I've read this year, including: The Road, The White Tiger, Middlesex, and The Book Thief had all won some kind of prestigious award. I cannot emphasize enough how moving and memorable these books were to me. I became so attached to the story and characters that I forgot I was only reading a novel. So it was with great expectations that I started reading the Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay (2000) by Michael Chabon.

I'm having some difficulty writing this review because I can appreciate how good the book is, but when I had such high expectations, I can't ignore that I sometimes failed to connect to the characters and was often frustrated as I read. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay centers around the relationship between two cousins living in New York City at the outbreak of WWII. Joe Kavalier comes to New York City as a Jewish refugee from Prague, the only one of his family who is able to get out at the time. Sam--the idea man--and Joe--the artist--collaborate to create a new era of comic books. Joe is desperate to save money to help get his family out of Prague and he uses the comic medium to fight his own personal, frustrated, and hopeless war against Hitler and the Nazis. Joe and Sam obtain some success, have relationships, and live with the war and its consequences.

There's a lot going on in Amazing Adventures, including issues of war, genocide, anti-semitism, survivor guilt, writing, homosexuality, love, magic, prejudice, success, and friendship, among others. I am truly amazed that Chabon was able to weave such an intricate and involved story that still kept my interest for over six hundred pages. Yet something wasn't quite working for me. Chabon covers so much ground and sometimes so subtly that I often found it unsatisfying: I kept waiting for him to drill in his point instead of floating over the surface. And maybe this was because the story jumped between comic book characters and the novel's characters, but I sometimes had a hard time believing that Joe and Sam were real. I recognized the tragedy in Joe's and Sam's stories, and I wanted to feel for both of them, but Chabon never really allowed me to. It felt so surreal at times that I felt an emotional disconnect. The story jumped from Prague, to magical stories, to New York, to Antarctica, and I lost some of my connection to the characters. I should also probably disclose at this point that I've never been much of a comic book reader and I have a particular phobia of moths.

However, just thinking back on Amazing Adventures to write this review, a number of memorable and moving scenes still haunt me. There is no question that this book is involved, impressive, and worth reading; I just couldn't feel as connected to it as I have some of the other award-winning books I've read this year.

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