Here we are, part 1 of Michael Chabon's upcoming novel, Telegraph Avenue, a read-along courtesy of As the Crowe Flies. Right off the bat, the epigraph made me chuckle:
"Call me Ishmael."
--Ishmael Reed, probably.
The opening paragraphs are beautiful:
"A white boy rode flatfoot on a skateboard, towed along, hand to shoulder, by a black boy pedaling a brakeless fixed-gear bike. Dark August morning, deep in the Flatlands. Hiss of tires. Granular unraveling of skateboard wheels against asphalt. Summertime Berkeley giving off her old-lady smell, nine different styles of jasmine and a squirt of he-cat.
"The black boy raised up, let go of the handlebars. The white boy uncoupled the cars of their little train. Crossing his arms, the black boy gripped his T-shirt at the hem and scissored it over his head. He lingered inside the shirt, in no kind of hurry, as they rolled toward the next pool of ebbing streetlight. In a moment, maybe, the black boy would tug the T-shirt the rest of the way off and fly it like a banner from his back pocket. The white boy would kick, push, and reach out, feeling for the spark of bare brown skin against his palm. But for now the kid on the skateboard just coasted along behind the blind daredevil, drafting."
It's not until the end of the first section that we find out who these two boys are, but it sets the expectation that we are going to explore some issues of race, and that seems to be the case as we move along.
Archy Stallings (black) and Nat Jaffe (white) are the owners of Brokeland Records, a used-vinyl store that is facing the arrival of Goliath Dogpile Thang, a massive big-box store that will be built by the "fifth richest black man in America", former NFL'er Gibson Goode. Nat and Archy's wives are a respected--mostly--team of midwives, and Archy's wife is pregnant. In flashbacks to 1973, we meet Archy's father Luther Stallings, former star of 1970s blaxploitation films. We also meet Mr. Nostalgia, a purveyor of trading cards, who is quite an interesting character himself, and one I hope shows up again.
There's plenty of tension from the get-go. Will Dogpile Thang ruin Brokeland Records? Will Gwen (Archy's wife) recover from a traumatic birth that pits the midwives against an established hospital? Just as bad, what will she do if she learns that Archy isn't exactly staying monogamous while his wife is pregnant?
I had a little trouble getting into the story at first. There are a lot of characters, and they all seem to be important. Which is good--it's just a lot to keep them all straight at first, before I got to know them. Chabon's writing is so beautiful, and it seems effortless, although I'm sure it's not. He can write sentences that are nearly ethereal, and then with a bang, bring them back to earth:
"Somewhere in the vicinity, he had once been told, covered over by time and concrete, lay the founding patch of human business in this corner of the world. Miwok Indians dreaming the dream, living fat as bears, piling up their oyster shells, oblivious to history with its oncoming parade of motherfuckers."
My review so far: slow to start, but worth the effort, and I'm definitely ready to move into section 2.
Interested in pre-ordering? You can find it online here.