Buffalo & Erie County Public Library Staff Review by Jack Edson:
Michael Chabon's Telegraph Avenue was the best fiction book I read in 2012, for quite a few reasons.
I admit, I like anything that Michael Chabon writes. This includes his first book of 1988, Mysteries of Pittsburgh and continues through The Mysteries of Kavalier and Clay, The Yiddish Policemen's Union and Manhood for Amateurs, to name a few personal favorites.
The plot of Telegraph Avenue is challenging to describe, but it goes something like this:
The time is 2004 and the scene is Oakland, California -- specifically on a street named "Telegraph Avenue," where two old friends, Archy Stallings and Nat Jaffe, run a used vinyl record shop where many, many neighborhood residents have come to listen to music, talk to and argue with one another for generations. There is always music in the air at this place. Just as Archy and Nat are friends and partners, their wives, Gwen Shanks and Aviva Roth-Jaffe, are also friends and partners in a legendary midwife practice, Berkeley Birth Partners. Together, these ladies have welcomed hundreds of little African American brothers and sisters into the world, never missing one of them.
Everything was doing fine on Telegraph Avenue until Gibson Goode, a former football star and the fifth-richest African American in the USA, decided to come back to his old neighborhood and build a gigantic, multi-story "record-store-and-more" to celebrate the contributions that African Americans have made to our musical culture. This venture would bring lots of jobs to the neighborhood and Goode wants to be giving back to the community that raised him before he became a star, but for Archy and Nat, there's a huge problem: Goode's record emporium would have a supersized Used Vinyl Department and that would put Archy and Nat's store out of business in no time at all.
If that was not bad enough, a hippie couple who hired Berkeley Birth Partners to assist in the delivery of their little bundle of joy is suing them for malpractice. Aviva had a screaming fight with a doctor at the local hospital and now, those folks want to remove Aviva's midwife privileges there. Then, to the great surprise of Archy, a 15 year-old boy shows up claiming to be his son, and Nat's son, Julius, promptly falls head over heels in love with this young dude.
Even though Chabon is writing about serious stuff, this book is extremely funny. The most outrageous scene is probably the funeral in the back of the record store. Or, readers might prefer the scenes of the aging actor trying to revive his career with final episode of a "Strutter" Blaxploitation film. Or, the perhaps, the lesbian funeral marching band named "Bomp and Circumstance."
Be prepared to consult your dictionary as you read this book, as Chabon's vocabulary is rich and varied, just as his characters are varied, even if, other than Gibson Goode, they might not be especially rich.
Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon will be the focus at the downtown Central Library program "Literally Speaking" on Tuesday, January 15 at 12:10 p.m., 1 Lafayette Square, free. Come and join the discussion!
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