So, here we are, on to sections 3 and 4 of Michael Chabon's Telegraph Avenue. As I mentioned last week, I'd been having mixed feelings as I moved forward into the book, especially with the Obama cameo.
So it did nothing to assuage my concerns when I dug into section 3, which is the shortest section of the book, only 12 pages. And only 1 sentence.
A 12-page sentence.
When I finished reading it, I sat back and thought long and hard about why Chabon might have chosen to do that. I thought about the PowerPoint chapter in Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad. I know that was a polarizing chapter, but I fell into the camp of those who loved it. I could completely believe in a teen girl using that program to tell her story, experimenting with it, and I found it very moving.
Then I thought about Virginia Woolf's beautiful To the Lighthouse, with its short center section, Time Passes, which acts as a bridge between two distinctly different periods of time in the life of the Ramsay family (and includes a major plot development). Woolf carries it off most beautifully.
So, then, how can I interpret Chabon's 12-page sentence? Is it supposed to be a take on jazz, which is an underlying concept in the book? Is it supposed to serve like Woolf's transition, using the bird Fifty-Eight as a way to fly us through certain plot points? Is it supposed to be like Egan, using a unique form of storytelling to create a different point of view?
Sadly, in the end, I came to the conclusion that the reason Chabon did this 12-page sentence was: because he could. And that's not a good enough reason to do that in a book.
I'm guessing that this book is going to be one of those polarizing novels that everyone talks about and has an opinion on, like Jonathan Franzen's Freedom. I'm still not to the end of the book, but the 12-page sentence caused something to snap inside me, and I am just. Not. Excited.
Section 4 returned to the previous form of storytelling, and after a while the near-constant use of metaphors and similes, and the bouncing back and forth between various characters, some of whom I care about and others I don't, is wearing me down. I'm enjoying watching Archy prepare for Cochise's funeral; I found Aviva's commitment to her chosen profession of midwife to be movingly heartfelt; I worry about Gwen's impetuousness and her marriage to Archy. I wish we saw more of Nat and Aviva. And the subplot with Archy's father, Luther, is beginning to feel like a red herring to me.
I guess the bottom line is, if I hadn't committed to reading the whole book, I'd probably have quit by now. But the final section is short, so I'll find out if there's something in those last 80 pages that will redeem the book for me.