Tweet Print This Page
Email This Post
In many ways, Michael Chabon’s latest novel, “Telegraph Avenue” (2012), represents a break from his earlier work.
Unlike his breakthrough tome, “The Mysteries of Pittsburgh” (1988), the writing style is accessible, more Top 10 hits than bebop.
And unlike his epic novel, “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay” (2000), set in New York in the years leading up to World War II, it takes place in modern times, circa 2004.
The naturalistic style also detours from “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union” (2007), a what-if fantasy that imagines European Jews settling in Alaska rather than Israel.
If there are any dots to connect here, it would be with his recent memoir, “Manhood for Amateurs” (2009). In both books, Chabon explores what it means to be a son, a husband and a father in the post-millennial world, with occasional flashbacks to the 1970s, when he was a boy.
Now 49, the renowned, Pulitzer-Prize winning author will give his own perspective on the novel, praised by the New Yorker as “sharp and hilarious,” at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Copperfield’s Books in Petaluma.
“Telegraph Avenue” follows the fate of two families whose lives intersect in the Temescal neighborhood of Oakland, not far from Chabon’s own home in Berkeley’s Rockridge district.
At the heart of the tale is Brokeland Records, a used-vinyl shop along a scruffy patch of Telegraph Avenue, “the ragged fault where the urban plates of Berkeley and Oakland subducted.”
Its main characters — the Jewish and African-American co-owners of Brokeland Records — are drifting in the wind like so many plastic bags on Interstate 80 when a wealthy developer announces plans to open a record superstore nearby.
Chabon’s visceral sense of place strikes a chord from the opening paragraph, where he describes Berkeley as “giving off her old-lady smell, nine different styles of jasmine and a squirt of he-cat.”
While he lacerates the tempeh-and-Tevas of Berkeley and the ribs-and-running-suits of Oakland with equal glee, “Telegraph Avenue” taps into a deep well of empathy that bridges the gap between the two worlds.
At the Bowery Hotel on New York’s Lower East Side, Chabon was preparing to launch his United Kingdom book tour.
Q: Your writing has always been inspired by a strong sense of place. Why does this place speak to you?
A: I didn’t sit down to write about an avenue or a city. I just decided to write about two guys who own a record store, and then moved outward from the block and into the neighborhood. … I started working a little patch of it, and worked my way out.
Q: How did the idea for the novel come about?
A: I literally walked into a record store on Claremont Avenue in Oakland and was struck by the fact that there were two guys working there, and one guy was black and one was white, and the guys hanging out in the store were black and white, and I thought, cool. I love the way they have created this space where they’re talking about records and teasing each other.
Being in that space resonated for me because of where I had grown up in Columbia, Maryland, a suburb built between Baltimore and Washington, D.C. At the time, in the late ’60s, it was very racially integrated.
Q: Do you still own vinyl?
A: I started listening to records while I was working on this book. In addition to sounding wonderful, it’s also a perfect way to remind yourself to get up and stretch and take a break. You have to get up every 20 minutes and turn the record over.
Q: What kind of music do you listen to when you’re working?
A: It has to be instrumental music. It has to be rhythmically pretty steady and dynamically steady, without loud and soft parts. It fades almost into the background, but not quite. It helps me focus.
There’s a music called post-rock that is electric instruments in a rock band, with no singing. Six Parts Seven and Tristeza are good work music, and Phillip Glass is good work music. The more repetitive, the better.
Q: Many of your books have been considered for the small and large screen, but only one has made it (“The Mysteries of Pittsburgh.”) Do you think “Telegraph Avenue” has a shot?
A: It would be cool if that happened, but I’ve been through the process too many times to get excited about it. It’s like Charlie Brown and the football. I’m not falling for Lucy.
You can reach Staff Writer Diane Peterson at 521-5287 or email@example.com.
Copyright © 2012 PressDemocrat.com — All rights reserved. Restricted use only