Thursday, December 13, 2018

Book 159: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

"The magician seemed to promise that something torn to bits could be mended without a seam, that what had vanished might reappear, that a scattered handful of doves or dust might be reunited by a word, that a paper rose consumed by fire could be made to bloom from a pile of ash. But everyone knew that it was only an illusion. The true magic of this broken world lay in the ability of the things it contained to vanish, to become so thoroughly lost, that they might never have existed in the first place."

Dates read: July 6-14, 2017

Rating: 10/10

Awards/Lists: Pulitzer Prize, New York Times bestseller

I hate plenty of pieces of beloved literature. I had a whole post on it quite soon after I started my blog, but to save you the effort of going and finding it and myself the cringing I'd surely do if I went back and read it (I like to think that I'm getting better at writing this thing as I go along), I'll give you some of the highlights. I got nothing from Gone With The Wind. I LOATHED The Catcher In The Rye. I find Pride & Prejudice the least compelling of the Austen I've read so far. I did not at all care for The Great Gatsby when I first read it (thankfully, I re-read it after high school and now it's a favorite). Part of it is that everyone has different tastes, and part of it is the hype that comes from reading something that so many people have told you is amazing. It creates expectations that are really hard to live up to.

When you have a novel that tops many critical lists as one of the best of the 21st century, is considered a modern Great American Novel, and has won the Pulitzer, that's a lot of hype. So I have to admit I was a little nervous to start Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. What if all the hype was just, well, hype and I'd be slogging through like 600 pages of something I couldn't connect with? But starting on like page 50, I turned to my husband and announced "this is a really good book that I'm reading". I proceeded to announce this to just about everyone who might possibly care and probably several people who didn't. The hype is real, guys. This book is amazing.

It begins with the arrival of 19 year-old Josef Kavalier in Brooklyn, where his 17 year-old cousin Sammy Klayman is startled to find that he has a Czechoslovakian cousin, much less one with whom he's suddenly expected to share a room. Joe has just been smuggled out of Prague, where it's becoming more and more dangerous to be a Jewish person as Hitler's power begins to rise, and he's determined to make the most from the sacrifices his family undertook on his behalf and get them out, too. When he notices his cousin's talent for drawing, along with his own knack for a catchy story, Sammy has an idea: comic books. Superman has enraptured American youth, and soon the team that dubs itself Kavalier and Clay has a hero of their own: The Escapist, who cannot be contained by lock or key. The book then follows the players through time, as their comics become quite popular indeed: the bond that grows between them, Joe's struggle to get his family back, both men falling in love for the first time, and the fallout from major losses that rock them.

The quality of the writing is so, so good. I'd read Chabon's more recent Moonglow several months prior to this, so I was prepared for a well-told, wide-ranging tale, but this blows that one out of the water. I've added several other of his works to my TBR, but I'd be shocked if they could measure up to this one. Not that he's not extremely talented, but this has the feel of a masterpiece. It's detailed and rich and involving...I moved through it at a pace significantly slower than I usually read because there was so much there and I didn't want to miss a single turn of phrase. There are several situations in the book that are fantastical to the point of almost being preposterous, but Chabon lays so much groundwork and is so sensitive to the emotional truth of his deeply-realized characters that he's earned the trust of the readers to go there and they very much work. It's an incredible book and I would recommend it to any human that enjoys reading.

Tell me, blog friends, what super-hyped books let you down?

One year ago, I was reading: The Girl in the Tower

Two years ago, I was reading: The Wonder

Three years ago, I was reading: Occidental Mythology


  1. I didn't love the portrayal of women in Kavalier and Clay but there are a lot of things the book does really well. I'd say Eleanor Oliphant was a letdown for me :/

    1. That's a fair critique of Kavalier and Clay! If I could change anything about the book that would be it. And Eleanor Oliphant is a book I've gone back and forth on whether or not I should read...I think you've convinced me that no is the right choice!