31 July 2012

We're Gonna Rock Down To Telegraph Avenue: Part the Last, or Brokeland

So this week is the final installment in the Michael Chabon readalong, and I have to say that I am feeling a little bereft, both at the thought of the dissolving of the fellowship (that sounds vaguely Tolkien-like) and at the closing of the book. I am grateful to HarperCollins, Mr. Chabon himself, and his editor, for approving this unprecedented ARC readalong and providing the ARCs to all of us.

Part V, Brokeland, seemed a little more disjointed to me that the other sections of the book, with the possible exception of part I, where I was still having trouble keeping characters straight.  It starts out in media res, and while I think that works for the most part in the rest of the book, I wanted something more directly picking up where part IV left off.  I think it's a testament to how much I've come to feel for Chabon's characters that I don't want to miss out on the important things in their lives, so it's a little frustrating to learn that so many of the conversations I wanted to be privy to have occurred offstage.

I wasn't expecting a happy ending from Chabon, but what I got was an ending that was both realistic and satisfying in equal measure, and that says something, I suppose.  I won't go too much into the particulars of the plot, other than to acknowledge how good I thought the hospital scene and the final scene, up in the second floor room, were.

I didn't have particular expectations about Telegraph Avenue before I started it, other than I thought it would be fun to do a readalong with a not-yet-published novel, but I'm so glad that that is how I came to the book.  Without a group to discuss it each week,  to pick apart the good, the bad, & the extraordinary, I might have given up on it.  I don't usually like to work that hard on my fiction, but Chabon made me reach and stretch to accommodate his book and I think I'm a better reader for it. Now that I'm on the other side of it, I find my mind going back to those characters and wanting to live in their world a little longer.

It's impossible to really summarize a book like this one, where the plot points meander or even happen offstage and where the characters are so varied and rich, or where the location becomes a character in and of itself--or maybe even a metaphor for what Chabon is doing.  So I'll just share with you the short blurb I wrote for something we call a "shelf tag" in my bookstore, where it will become part of my shelf in the Staff Favorites section:

The best fiction reflects not only how the world is, but what its reality could be. Chabon's latest (and greatest) novel, while ostensibly about race in the 21st century, is really a cross-section of America itself and a peek into the real American Dream. Chock full of pop cultural references that will keep the curious reader Googling, and imbued with the creole rhythms of music from the world over, it shows that our differences don't always have to divide us and that the "apartheid of consciousness" that pervades our nation can, in fact, be overcome.

I'll conclude, as usual with some of my favorite passages, but first a question: was anybody really surprised to learn the name of the new tenant next to the King of Bling? I smiled rather broadly when I read that.

"There was nothing a man couldn't do with three thousand dollars and a suitcase full of canned tuna fish and pregnancy bras."

"Valletta rocked back. Wavering in her resolve. Knowing she should make good on her threat and go, but trained by the Pavlovian bell of love to confuse contempt with affection and indifference with reserve."  God, so true of so many women I know.

The whole metaphor of whites & blacks and the pedestal of the world = backs of elephants and a turtle (which is either Mayan or from Terry Pratchett, or possibly both).  It's too long to excerpt here, but the concluding sentence is both defeatist and humorous: "It just turned out that a tower of elephants and turtles was no way to try to hold up a world."

"Nat might have felt ashamed of the self-pity in which he currently wallowed, if self-pity knew any shame."

"'Pissing on a zeppelin,' Nat said, regretting bitterly the loss of this opportunity. 'Why didn't I think of that?'"

If you're following this readalong and are intrigued by our discussion, please consider pre-ordering your book here.

Please note that if the Linky List closes before you've had a chance to post, you should just add a link to your post to the comments section.

P. S. The guest post I promised last week from Melody went up this week--it's the post that is one newer than this one, or just click here


  1. Emily, thank you so much for running this readalong, letting me be a part of it and being such a great cheerleader. I'm really glad I gave it a shot and I had a lot of fun reading with you!

  2. As usual, you think to say all the things I should have said in my review! Thanks for the opportunity to read-a-long. I had a great time.

  3. Emily, your shelf tag is pure poetry. Wonderful. Thanks again for including me in the read-along. Great fun.

  4. Dude, EXCELLENT shelf blurb.

    Thanks again for hosting. The end of readalongs is usually like the end of summer camp, which is why I call participants of my former readalongs my camp buddies. So much shared! When to meet again! Wear your friendship bracelet until it falls off!

    Getting to read this was so awesome. I really loved it. Go Chabon.

  5. Thanks for letting me in on this read-along, Emily. I don't agree this is Chabon's greatest :-) but it was an intriguing read.

  6. I am amused by how different our final thoughts on the book are. Which, as I mentioned in my own post, is how I often find things going when I read along with others. Which is okay! And that's a great blurb by the way - it gets at the heart of the book without being too detail-oriented. The published should use it on the back of the book! :]

    Thanks so much for this opportunity! I really enjoyed it!

  7. I'll jump on board and thank you as well, for running this read along and letting me be a part of it. It was a lot of fun and forced me not to give up when there were times that I wanted to. You are right - this book was work, but I think it changed me as a reader.

  8. Ha, I actually included that really long paragraph about the turtles and the elephants. I think it really summed up the precarious reality of their relationships, through no fault of their own.
    Thanks so much for hosting the read-along. It was wonderful. :)

  9. That shelf tag is perfect! Thanks again for running this readalong - I had a blast!

  10. Emily, Thanks so much for hosting this! I had a great time and I met a lot of great bloggers. I didn't hurt that I really liked the book too!

  11. Hey Emily. I just heard about your Telegraph Ave readalong from my sales rep, Anne. What a fun surprise to see this. Thanks for your huge support of the book. I'm absolutely thrilled to see so many bloggers joining along and enjoying Telegraph Avenue together. Great job.
    - Danielle from Harper


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