Reflections: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

Michael Chabon's novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is one for the ages. It's a rare novel that inhabits an impressive concept, brings painfully full characters to life, contributes well-crafted observations to the cultural vault, and entertains you with a gripping story throughout. This Chabon has effected with a style and grace that make the true lover of literary fiction ache with a combination of nostalgia, ambition, and wrenching pleasure as she reads the last lines and resigns herself to no longer having the novel as her daily companion. Do I wax ecstatic? In penance I will pull myself back to the hard earth of facts.

Chabon chronicles the story of Samuel Clay and Josef Kavalier, Jewish cousins growing into adulthood on the eve of Hitler's devastation of the old Europe. Sam's mother unceremoniously demands one evening that her son, a comic-book loving Brooklynite, shove over to make room in his bed for his hitherto unknown cousin Josef, who has just escaped from Prague in a coffin with a Golem. Sammy shares his bed that night, and the next morning becomes Josef's guide into American popular culture via the new media of the comic book. In an impressive act of hustling, the boys leap from being poor, aimless young men and strangers to one another, to being one of the nation's top-selling comic artist teams and one another's primary personal relationship.

For all of their intimacy and mutual understanding, they are separated by Joe's status as the saved son, who scrambles to succeed in this new land in order to rescue his family from the terrors prepared for them by Hitler's Reich. This mission is understood and supported by Sam, but it simply cannot be experienced by him, and this difference will drive a wedge between them and corrode the happiness of each man and the people who love him.


Mrs. B. said...

I read this years ago and I remember that it was a lot of fun!

candida said...

Thank you for the wonderful rendering of this magical novel, which I seem to encounter all over again through your comments. Now why is it that none of Chabon's other works seem to be as splendid, at least not for me. Have you read any? Should I be giving any particular one a second go-round?

Mille Feuille said...

Candida and Mrs. B,

I'm so glad you both enjoyed the Amazing Adventures; I'll admit that it is a rare thing for me to be quite so carried away by a novel, and I love the thought of sharing that experience with others. I haven't much experience with other Chabon novels. I tried The Yiddish Policemen's Union and just couldn't find a place for myself within its world. Elated by my Kavalier and Clay experience I purchased Gentlemen of the Road and put it near the top of my stack (Cather precedes it for sentimental reasons, but nothing else). I'll post my take soon.

WS said...

I finished The Mysteries of Pittsburgh last month--there is just something about Chabon's characters and their worlds that I love. I'll have to read this next!

Weatherly :)