‘Kavalier & Clay’ is One Amazing Adventure

DetailsLiterature, for me, is a spiritual thing. Not in a nut-job way, but if I take the time to read a particular work, I do hope to somehow be the better for it by the time I close the back cover. Whether that growth takes place artistically, intellectually, or by mere humanitarian measure is irrelevant; I simply need to improve on some honest level. Imagine, then, my complete euphoria when I set down Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.

How could I have known when I picked up a copy of Chabon’s work a few years ago that it would so easily land itself on my all-timer list? Josef Kavalier, character of tragic beauty, elicits a compassion so powerful that even the most hard-nosed reader is destined to swoon. And Josef’s wildly imaginative cousin Sammy Clay? Forget it, you belong to him the moment he spins his first quirky comic tale.

It’s hard to know where to begin with this story. In the telling, the threads of The Amazing Adventure’s of Kavalier & Clay sound more like a drunken rant: Nazi occupation, the cartoon industry, the golem of Prague, genocide, homosexuality, love, loyalty, loss, World War II, and, yes, a disturbing leotard are all part of the package. I know, right? Yet while it sounds like something you should collect and put out with Monday’s trash, Kavalier & Clay holds one more secret that makes it all work – magic.

Magic is central to both the story line and the success of Chabon’s Amazing Adventure, and whether you like magic or not (I don’t) is irrelevant. What other than Chabon’s own dose of literary charms could make 636 pages leave you crying out for more? How does he so discreetly lift the cover on contemporary topics and sensitively portray them in a bygone era of intolerance and secrecy? How does one pen a story that is terribly involved yet manages to keep its legs? Lastly, how are Chabon’s reach-out-and-touch characters so dramatically vivid without going over the top?

Obviously, I recommend. Highly. But I do worry a touch about a slight sag in the middle of the book where the story gets a bit trippy. While I fear this will lose some worthy readership, I am confident that those who persevere won’t regret the journey. That said, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay seriously worked for me  and obviously for many others – Michael Chabon’s title hooked the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

*A note: I am now two for two down my own little paperback row.

-For a full review link to Salon

-Support your local bookstores, universities, and libraries. It matters.

-Post by Megan Shaffer

NLR’s 2010 Top Ten Lit Picks

Cover ImageSince the Detroit Free Press didn’t deem necessary the inclusion of their top literary picks in today’s section, The Year in Review 2010: Arts & Entertainment, I quickly compiled a “2010 Top Ten” list (in no particular order) on behalf of Night Light Revue. For those of us in the metro area who do, in fact, consider the written word to be both Art and Entertainment, this entry is for you.

*Beneath the Lion’s Gaze by Maaza Mengiste

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

*Eden Springs by Laura Kasischke

The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag by Alan Bradley

The Devil’s Star by Jo Nesbo

*The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer

*The Blind Contessa’s New Machine by Carey Wallace

*The Hanging Tree by Bryan Gruley

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell

The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey

Most Fabulous Book I Read Overall This Year: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon

*denotes a Michigan author or tie to the state of Michigan

Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

-Post by Megan Shaffer

From Kavalier to Clay

Manhood for Amateurs
Manhood for Amateurs

I recently picked up Michael Chabon’s Manhood for Amateurs: The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father, and Son, and it seems I have unleashed a beast.  Everywhere I turn, I either see something about this latest work or this seemingly new genre of paternal confession.

Chabon’s latest work is a series of reflective essays on what it means to be a husband, father, and son in today’s world. Chabon’s interview on NPR digs into his personal life and attempts to explain the motives behind the essays and the sometimes painful experiences of his youth.

An additional featured review of Chabon’s book, First-Person Masculine in Sunday’s New York Times, David Kamp coins the genre “Dad Lit”. He also throws in the term “Dadsploitation”, which he notes has recently seen talented writers such as Michael Lewis and Adam Gopnik “…turn their attention to the domestic front – the idea being that in their skilled hands, the non-unique experience of fatherhood can be turned into a rollicking, revelatory ride worthy of your scarce reading time.”

So what’s the draw? Is being a father or raising children actually something new? As Kamp notes, not really. However, for the increasing number of men who now stay home and have taken on these roles in tandem, such books could provide this male demographic with some true genre relief; sort of a buddy-system for the paterfamilias.

Selfishly, I thought there was nothing in it for me. A mother. A wife. A daughter. But after reading The Loser’s Club, the first entry of Manhood for Amateurs, I acquiesced. Beautifully written, Chabon’s sharp, masculine wit kills with its sincerity:

Though I derive a sense of strength and confidence from writing and from my life as a husband and father, those pursuits are notoriously subject to endless setbacks and the steady exposure of shortcoming, weakness, and insufficiency, in particular in the raising  of children.

Hmmmm… perhaps there’s something for me here after all.

-Post by Megan Shaffer