Monday, June 29, 2009

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Michael Chabon, was a book club pick that I had pitched on the basis of the enthusiastic recommendation from our former blog brother. It won the Pulitzer in 2001. I was initially reluctant to give it a try since Chabon's Wonder Boys is one of my all-time most despised books. (I just can't bear that whole self-indulgent trite sub-genre of novels BY middle-aged, writer/lit professors ABOUT a middle-aged writer/lit professor going through a midlife crisis involving cavorting with an 18-year old female student. Blech. I spend the whole book yelling at the author through the pages: "WRITE SOMETHING! You -- your id, your ego, your angst, your psyche -- are nowhere near as interesting as you think you are.")

But I loved Kavalier & Clay. It's richly imagined and brilliantly executed. You know it's not merely good, but great, in the chapter where the boys work out the backstory for The Escapist and you see them drawing from their life experiences (maybe consciously, maybe subconsciously, maybe both).

There's endless material to ponder metaphysical meaning in the themes of chains/suffocation, escapism and superheroes. I'm particularly tickled that each character is handed their "key" by another: Sammy's job offer to Rosa is her key to escape her boredom at suburban momhood; Sammy's key is a Congressional hearing at which he's involuntarily outed; Joe's key to reentering the lives of Sammy and Rosa is presented by events put into motion by Tommy. This mirrors the Houdini escape, described in detail, in which Houdini's wife supplies a key with a glass of water to undo a particularly tough lock. Obviously, too, superhero stories are all about people being saved from their plights by another. (Ayn Rand fans: this isn't a novel for you.)

Also delightful is the fact that the Golem, made of clay, seems to Joe to weigh more after it crumbles than it did in its original shape. Sammy and Rosa's house is on "Lovoisier" street. Lovoisier was a French scientist who recognized the principle of the conservation of mass. I don't know what I'm supposed to understand about the meaning, in the story or metaphysically, of the Golem gaining weight while disintegrating, but I'm mulling it over. Thoughts, anyone?

1 comment:

Stephanie said...

I was the only one out of the 11 in our book club who read the whole thing.