I finished The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay today! It was an amazing book, and I still can’t find anything to complain about in Chabon’s writing style. It was a fantastic, well-plotted, well-characterized historical fiction novel. I laughed, I cried, I got worked up about gay rights and PTSD and genocide. Overall, I call it a successful reading experience.
I am glad that The Numbers Challenge forced me to read this book, for many reasons. Finally I’ve read a Michael Chabon book, and I enjoyed it, so my prior purchases of his other works are justified. This was a long one! I think the size of it alone would have kept me from reading it for another twelve and a half years. I hate how much thick books intimidate me. I purposefully put several “chunkers” as Bethany calls them, in my Numbers Challenge list, and I’m glad to have gotten one of them out of the way early. I can only hope that the others are as painless as this one.
Bethany and I were talking the other day in the comments section of the blog somewhere about how when we do too many mid-reading updates we run out of things to say by the end. This has definitely happened to me with Kavalier and Clay. If I could make a complaint about this book, it would be only that it doesn’t lend itself to criticism well. The plot is so straightforward that I have no questions about the why or the wherefore. The characters, the major ones at least, are well-drawn, and since it’s an omniscient narration not much about their motivations are left up for discussion: I know what they’re up to. Every decision they make is justified. Maybe this can be a criticism. It doesn’t seem like a good one though. Doesn’t this mean that Chabon has done his job as all-knowing deity of this universe? Something about it just doesn’t sit right. Maybe I’ve been reading too many books with murky intentions lately, and I can’t appreciate a simple tale when one walks up to me and hits me in the face with its Pulitzer Prize.
In case anyone was wondering, this book does have a satisfying resolution to the romantic plot. That’s all I’ll say about that. One subplot I would have enjoyed Chabon elaborating on a bit is the legal hoo-ha surrounding whether or not Empire Comics plagiarized Superman in creating The Escapist. Chabon made this out to be a real court case, which obviously it wasn’t, with real Senate Committee hearings that Sammy is called to in 1954. This whole subplot factors in early on when Sammy offers to commit perjury in exchange for a bigger stake in The Escapist’s earnings, then is dropped for a long time, then comes back at the end, all unexpected, to give Sammy a way out of his closeted life. Maybe this is a weak point. The court case seems to be a plot device that’s used to facilitate change in the characters’ lives, though I don’t think it’s necessarily critical. Take out this court case and the heart of the plot doesn’t change much. That being said, I always love to read courtroom drama (my favorite will always be from The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, when every single human being who ever wronged Lisbeth Salander gets what is coming to him), so I enjoyed these sections regardless of whether or not they were necessary to the plot.
One last comment: I am glad that I was forced to buy a newer edition of this book thanks to the fifty missing pages debacle from a couple of weeks ago, because the 2012 edition of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay has a bunch of “extras” at the end: two chapters that Chabon edited out, a couple of short stories that give us glimpses of life after the pages of K&C for the main characters. I wasn’t initially planning to read these pages, but this evening when I finished I found that I wasn’t ready to be done with Joe, Rosa, Sammy, and Tommy. That speaks volumes for my level of enjoyment of this book. Usually if I spend a whole month reading a book by the time I’m done I want nothing to do with reading any extra pages to “enhance my understanding” of the novel. But not this time.
I definitely think this book would appeal to a wide array of readers. I’ve been telling my serious reader friend who haven’t read it to read it, despite their reluctance to read anything to do with comics; I’ve been telling my friends who enjoy comic books to pick it up too, even though they don’t always enjoy literary fiction. It’s not often I encounter a book like this one. I think I’ll be reading more Chabon as time goes by. I’ll definitely keep buying his books too!