Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon
Author: Michael Chabon
Genre: Fiction (California / Berkeley / Record Store / 1970s / 2000s / Place as Character / Music / Racial Identity / Cultural Identity / Parenthood)
Publisher/Publication Date: Harper (9/11/2012)
Source: The publisher.
Rating: Dislike / Unfinished
Did I finish?: I did not.
One-sentence summary: An indie record store in Berkeley, CA witnesses the trials, tribulations, battles, and victories of two families, one black and one white.
Do I like the cover?: Yes -- it perfectly captures the vibe of the book.
I'm reminded of...: Quentin Tarantino, Nick Hornby, Ann Patchett
First line: A white boy rode flatfoot on a skateboard, towed along, hand to shoulder, by a black boy pedaling a brakeless fixed-gear bike.
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: If you love Chabon, or Berkeley, then you'll probably want to read this.
Why did I get this book?: I was lucky enough to score a spot on the Telegraph Avenue Readalong, sponsored by Emily at As The Crowe Flies (and Reads!).
Review: So, this was a DNF for me. It's been a few weeks since I gave up on this book, and sadly, my memory of it is already a bit fuzzy. I blogged my response to the first two parts for the readalong and my thoughts haven't shifted much from those initial musings.
In short: Chabon's a very lyrical writer. As the story focuses on the indie record store versus the big box entertainment retailer, a musicality to the narrative fits and in that regard, Chabon brought it. (To the point, I'll admit, that it got tiresome. But that's because I wasn't loving the book; perhaps if I had been digging it, I would have kept on loving the writing.)
I think my problem with this book is that it felt too aware, too smug, too hip... It was a cooler book than me. I was reminded of Tarantino film: there's passionate geekery here, and slavish devotion to a particular era, and while it's very evocative, since it's not a passion of mine, I grew bored when it started to feel like a schtick. The characters were hard to discern, at first -- who was who, who was white, who was black (rather significant since Chabon has said in interviews he wanted to take a look at race in this book), who was married/sleeping with/father to whom. Eventually, they started to separate, but by then I could tell this was just not my kind of novel. (I like music and all, but I don't love it, not like Chabon's heroes do.)
I'm sure I'm in the minority here and this probably wasn't a good first foray into Chabon's oeuvre. I suspect Chabon fans will be happy; Oakland-ers and other Bay Area aficionados will surely love this affectionate portrait of a city in transition.