iamnothamlet’s #CBR5 Review 17: Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon


If there’s any character in Michael Chabon’s most recent novel which serves as a stand-in for the author, it would have to be that of Michael “Moby” Oberstein, a white guy whose love of other cultures leads to him making an ass of himself by trying too hard to assimilate.

Telegraph Avenue is a novel about the obsessed people with abiding love for culture, in this instance mostly under-appreciated pop culture like black music and blaxploitation films. Nat Jaffe and Archy Stallings are best friends and business partners, co-owners of Brokeland Records, a vinyl shop threatened by the prospect of a new megastore opening in the neighborhood. Their wives are also partners, midwives whose practice is threatened by a momentary lapse in judgment, a loss of cool.

That all sounds like fairly standard, possibly even interesting fare for a novel, but in Chabon’s hands the story is choked under a mountain of strained and aggravating prose, burying the reader in unnecessary detail about every last little thing, while allowing the traditional elements of storytelling to fall by the wayside. There is, in this doorstop of a novel, almost no interesting interaction between the four main characters. The reader would be justified in wondering just how in the world this quartet of insufferable people wound up stuck with each other. Their conflicts major and minor seeming to spring from the fact that their friendships and marriages are mere contrivances on the part of the author. There is not a single believable human relationship in the whole damn book.

Worse than the character development is the prose. Chabon is baldly attempting to achieve something with his style here. He is trying to match his prose to the rhythms of the music which Nat and Archy are consumed by. However noble the attempt, Chabon flails at it, coming off like someone desperate to prove how cool he is. It is embarrassing  to watch.

I’d describe the plot in greater detail but I’m worried that I might inadvertently make the book sound much more interesting than it really is. I wouldn’t want anyone else exposed to this nonsense (one whole chapter is written as a single sentence, following the incredibly unlikely flight of an escaped parrot) on my account.

One thought on “iamnothamlet’s #CBR5 Review 17: Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon

  1. I started this book a few weeks ago and returned it to the library after reading about 40 pages. Ugh, indeed. I could not get in to it at all, though the story sounded promising, but the prose was just woefully painful in a “trying too hard” way.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s