Sunday, May 04, 2008

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon
Read: 2/12/06-3/26/06
Don't think I ever put it on LibraryThing (site's down for the evening, can't check); but if I had, I would probably tag it as TWN Novel, Historical Fiction, Pulitzer, Comic Books, WWII. Or something like that.

Now, yes, I did read this a couple years ago. However, I recently rediscovered a document of book reviews I'd been intending to blog little by little, giving me a bit of time to be sure I liked what I'd written before posting them. Gave them more time than they needed... This is from that cache. I originally wrote it soon after finishing the book, I believe.

I’m afraid this is the first novel I’ve read in quite some time which isn’t fantasy, or historical fiction, or children’s fiction, or even Christian romance. Oh wait, it is historical fiction. Um. Well, it’s not too similar to most historical fiction I’ve read. Anyway. It’s quite good.

The story begins in 1939, as comic books first exploded in popularity, with two Jewish boys who gain the opportunity to publish their own comic books. As they come up with their hero and his story, you feel with them the thrill of discovery, of finding a Good Idea.

You learn quite a bit about the period as you go along, one reason I would recommend it. It's fascinating to see all the facets history books divide up under various chapters and headings integrated into a cohesive history. It was a little too “realistic” for me, though. The ending left me a little cold – the sort of book that makes you say, “Is that all there is? Oh.”

I found the reality and escapism theme fascinating, though. Exactly what in the book was facing reality and what was escaping it could be a bit confusing (I’m still not entirely sure which was which, or was considered which by the author), but it was certainly interesting to think about.

“It was the voicing of a vain wish, when you got down to it, to escape. To slip, like the Escapist, free of the entangling chain of reality and the straitjacket of physical laws. Harry Houdini had roamed the Palladiums and Hippodromes of the world encumbered by an entire cargo-hold of crates and boxes, stuffed with chains, iron hardware, brightly painted flats and hokum, animated all the while only by this same desire, never fulfilled: truly to escape, if only for one instant; to poke his head through the borders of this world, with its harsh physics, into the mysterious spirit world that lay beyond. The newspaper articles that Joe had read about the upcoming Senate investigation into comic books always cited ‘escapism’ among the litany of injurious consequences of their reading, and dwelled on the pernicious effect, on young minds, of satisfying the desire to escape. As if there could be any more noble or necessary service in life.”

“Having lost his… [cut to minimize spoilers] …the friends and foes of his youth…[same reason] …his city, his history – his home – the usual charge leveled aginst comic books, that they offered merely an easy escape from reality, seemed to Joe actually to be a powerful argument on their behalf. He had escaped, in his life, from ropes, chains, boxes, bags, and crates, from handcuffs and shackles, from countries and regimes, from the arms of a woman who loved him, from crashed airplanes and an opiate addiction and from an entire frozen continent intent on causing his death. The escape from reality was, he felt – especially right after the war – a worthy challenge.”

“The pain of his loss – though he would never have spoken of it in these terms – was always with him in those days, a cold smooth ball lodged in his chest, just behind his sternum. For that half hour spent in the dappled shade of the Douglas firs, reading Betty and Veronica, the icy ball had melted away without him even noticing. That was magic – not the apparent magic of the silk-hatted card-palmer, or the bold, brute trickery of the escape artist, but the genuine magic of art. It was a mark of how fucked-up and broken was the world – the reality – that had swallowed his home… …that such a feat of escape, by no means easy to pull off, should remain so universally despised.”

I still don’t know. I normally find when I’ve returned from that world reality hurts even more, the icy ball has grown larger rather than melting. If it melted for him, perhaps it is magic. But at any rate, that last quote demonstrates the hopelessness of the modern novel that turns me away from it. Yeah, it’s honest. That’s the world without God, the world when you believe that the qualities to be found in a world of escape are nowhere to be found in this age or the age to come. No thank you. On the other hand, I agree in some ways. Escape is not always a bad thing, let alone something to be despised (see first quote).

“‘Jewish superheroes?’

‘What, they’re all Jewish, superheroes. Superman, you don’t think he’s Jewish? Coming over from the old country, changing his name like that. Clark Kent, only a Jew would pick a name like that for himself.’” –Joe and Sammy

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