Lives That Groove

By Michael Chabon
Harper, 480 pages, $27.99

There’s so much to like about Pulitzer Prize-winner Michael Chabon’s sprawling new novel, Telegraph Avenue, that it’s hard to pick just one reason why it’s so good. It’s a sweetly tangled story rich with quirky characters that chase down several narrative threads. At its core is a used vinyl shop called Brokeland Records, which is co-owned by longtime friends; Archy Stallings and Nat Jaffe. Their wives, Gwen and Aviva, are midwives who have ushered over a thousand babies into the California East Bay neighborhood the locals affectionately call Brokeland. Both of their families are fractured by the events that unfold over the course of the story, and the reader ends up caring less about how it all will end, and more about what the families will have to do to get to the end.

“Moonfaced, mountainous, moderately stoned, Archy Stallings manned the front counter of Brokeland Records, holding a random baby, wearing a tan corduroy suit over a pumpkin-bright turtleneck that reinforced his noted yet not disadvantageous resemblance to Gamera, the giant mutant flying tortoise of Japanese cinema.”

The backdrops of race, classic soul and jazz music, and pop culture combine with humor, humanity, and Chabon’s rich prose to drive the beat of this complexly woven novel. It’s almost too complexly woven though, and I began to wish that perhaps there was just a little less of it to love. But, it seems wrong to fault it for its opulence. That would be like complaining that chocolate cake had too much icing, which is simply ridiculous.

Reviewed by Diane Prokop