I liked the first part, but I have mixed feelings about part 2. The point at which my affection for the book started to slide came during an event where Gwen starts talking with a young black man who turns out to be a new-ish Senator from Illinois. In 2004. Work out the timeframe. Yup--none other than Barack Obama.
The scene bothered me on more than one level. First, it seemed gratuitous, and not at all necessary for the book. Second, I realize that a large part of this story is about race relations, but Obama's not even through his first term as president yet. Yes, the fact that he is president is important, but it's far too soon to predict the full effect of that on race relations going forward. The narrative started to break down for me at that point. The scene didn't feel like it was "organic" (sorry to use a buzzword), but was strong-armed into the book.
I also realized I'm far more interested in the women than the men, and this section had a lot to do with Archy Stallings, a man I'm finding less sympathetic and fascinating. I'm more intrigued with his wife, Gwen.
And I'm not at all sure what I think of a scene where a white man prepares fried chicken and collard greens for a black man, to convince the black man to attend a mostly white group that's getting riled up about the arrival of the big-box Dogpile Thang, owned by the fifth-richest black man in America. I get that that might be ironic, but not in the way that good irony makes me gleeful. It seemed strained.
Finally, Chabon is a very lush writer, and given that music (much of it jazz) is an important part of Nat and Archy's lives, it's not surprising that he's using his skills to play with rhythm and flow of language. But sometimes that started to feel off to me to, not--sorry--organic.
So. We'll see. There's still half the book left, and I do want to know what happens. Will Gwen forgive Archy? What about the babies? What about Brokeland Records? What about Julius and Titus, the latter having proven himself to not be a perfect gentleman after all?