Last night while waiting for my tiny dog to do his tiny dog thing, I finished the first section of Michael Chabon's Telegraph Avenue. It was the first cool evening after over 10 days of scorched-earth heat and I started thinking about the book's cover and how if Telegraph Avenue was an album of recorded music it'd have to be some kind of progressive rock or maybe some jazz fusion - think Miles Davis' Bitches Brew. There's a lot of stuff to track - characters, settings, relationships. Pay attention! These characters weave in and out, revealing connections and complications. Truth is uncovered and if you've let your attention stray then you'll miss something.
Sound confusing? It is. But you give yourself over to it and the melody begins to peek out from behind the texture and before long you'll be humming along.
Let's get some plot-type stuff out of the way. Archy and Nat own Brokeland Records, a used vinyl shop in Oakland, California. Their business is being threatened by the impending arrival of the absurdly named Dogpile Thang, a multimedia mega-store. Archy's wife is Gwen and Nat's wife is Aviva and together they work as a team of midwives. Archy and Gwen have a baby on the way. Nat and Aviva have a son named Julius (nicknamed "Julie"), aged 15 and with one foot out of the closet. There's an interesting cast of characters that come into the shop: Councilman Chandler Flowers, Mike "Moby" Oberstein, Garnet Singletary aka the "King of Bling", Cochise Jones and his parrot Fifty-Eight. And then there's Mr. Nostalgia and Luther Stallings and Popcorn Hughes and the 1973 version of Chandler Flowers. So many moving pieces, and I haven't mentioned the whole birthing scene and the hospital and... I'm getting tired just thinking about it.
Last, and certainly not least, we've got Titus Joyner, Julie's love interest and quite possibly, Archy's long-lost son.
That's a confusing bit of plot summary, further complicated by the fact there's SO MUCH MORE that I'm not even telling you about.
So far the book seems to be about fathers and sons, breaking out of the constraints of family, breaking out of the constraints of society and race. I don't think I want to comment on the race stuff just yet, but the father-son stuff was especially powerful for me given that I have two sons of my own and the whole father-son thing is becoming somewhat of a THING for me.
You never would get through to the end of being a father, no matter where you stored your mind or how many steps in the series you followed. Not even if you died. Alive or dead or a thousand miles distant, you were always going to be on the hook for work that was neither a procedure nor a series of steps but, rather, something that demanded your full, constant attention without necessarily calling on you to do, perform, or say anything at all.I love that line at the end... "like the commitment of gravity to the stars."
Fathering imposed an obligation that was more than your money, your body, or your time, a presence neither physical nor measurable by clocks: open-ended, eternal, and invisible, like the commitment of gravity to the stars
It just occured to me that there isn't much about mothering (although there is LOTS about birthing).
One more quote and then we'll wrap this up:
Like the Party he had joined too late, too young, Chan was a lost claim check, a series of time-lapse photos of a promise as it broke.In Summation! I'm in love with the writing, seduced by the language, but I've still got a wait and see outlook on the story. I feel like I've got a good sense of who Archy, Nat and Julie are, but I'm hazy on Gwen and Aviva hasn't come into focus yet. But we've just started and there's a lot of story left...