11 July 2007

Lunchtime Book Review: Kavalier and Clay

Not exactly a lunchtime review, as I haven't had a chance to read at lunch but once in the past three weeks. My lunchtime read is still A Mouthful of Air: Language, Languages...Especially English, which I hope to get back to at some point soon. But Kavalier and Clay...wow.

This isn't exactly a timely review. For that, I'd be telling you about The Yiddish Policemen's Union. Still, I figure not everyone's gotten around to 2001's Pulitizer Prize winner. Better late than never.

Anyway...where to start...maybe with the end of the book and Michael Chabon's thanks, specifically calling out Jack Kirby as inspiration for this, and everything he's ever written. As Chabon was born in '63, in the heart of the silver age, I can see how this would be the case. I was born right near the end of the silver, so I got the crappy mid-to-late '70s comics instead. Ah well.

On its surface, K&C is about boys becoming men, following and achieving (some of) their dreams, and realizing how boyhood wishes aren't always perfect. Interwoven with the fictions they create - primarily The Escapist1 - sometimes the magic leaks into reality. Only a few times, and very subtly, Chabon moves between coming-of-age story (of the boys, the comic book world, and America) and magical tales of heroism from a union suit-wearing golem and an actual golem. The power to spark lifeless form to life with a word is central, as is the value of escape - from pain, torment, and guilt.

Though it should have been Lolita, Alfred Appel's annotations ruined that for me. K&C is the best book I've read in 2007. If you haven't read it, do. If you hate literature and love comics, read this. If you hate comics and love literature, read this. If you hate broccoli and love Bugles, read this.

1 I'm stoked to learn that Chabon actually worked with Dark Horse to produce an Escapist comicbook. I'll have to hunt that down. Amazon's got some used ones for sale, but I'll probably have better luck on eBay.