Michael Chabon’s new novel.
Michael Chabon is an author I feel a personal connection with.
I bought Mysteries of Pittsburgh, his first novel, when it was published in trade paperback in 1988 or ’89. I loved the book (and the female love interest, the delightfully named Phlox) and was also supremely envious (Chabon was 25 at the time, I was just a couple of years younger and “novelist” was very much a career choice I had in mind). When The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay was published in 2000, I sold the idea of an interview with Chabon to the Globe & Mail newspaper, even though this meant driving down to Seattle (where he was giving a reading at Elliott Bay Book Company).
After the reading we did the interview, and Chabon was gracious, even when we kept pestering him for a photo and he was running late for dinner. Of course, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay went on to win a Pulitzer Prize, an achievement I’d like to think I had a hand in although of course I did not.
In the last decade, Chabon has emerged as a champion of genre fiction and comic books. He’s written essays about Sherlock Holmes and American Flagg! His short novel The Final Solution featured Sherlock Holmes (though I don’t think he’s explicitly named); The Yiddish Policemen’s Union is a mystery set in an alternate world, where the Jews, post-WWII, have settled in Alaska (they are “the frozen chosen”). He’s also written comic books, including a series about The Escapist, the fictional superhero invented for Kavalier & Clay.
Having grown up on comic books, science fiction paperbacks and John D. MacDonald thrillers myself, before discovering John Updike, Philip Roth and other so-called realists, I have come to admire Chabon even more for helping wake me up to the realization that there’s no shame in loving both Rabbit is Rich and The Quick Red Fox.
His latest novel, Telegraph Avenue, is set in the real world, more or less, although there is an alternate history, sort of (Chabon creates a fake ’70s blaxploitation film series). And there are tons of pop culture references, from Star Trek to Marvel Comics to Quentin Tarantino. And two of the main characters own and operate a record store, so there’s lots of music, mostly jazz, references. (Oh, and there’s even a Barack Obama cameo, which is quite well done.)
I enjoyed Telegraph Avenue, though I’m not sure I found it rave-worthy (it’s not the book I would recommend to someone who hadn’t read anything else by its author). It’s kind of like High Fidelity but with jazz instead of indie-rock and more midwifery. Lots more.
Anyway, this past Wednesday I got to interview Chabon again. This time the chat was via phone (Chabon was at his office in Oakland) for a piece that will run in the Vancouver weekly the Georgia Straight next week (he’s on a book tour that brings him to St. Andrews-Wesley United Church Sept 26). Parts of the interview didn’t make it into the finished piece, especially some small talk at the beginning of the conversation about genre fiction and obscure writers we admire, including Walter Tevis and Nicholas Meyer. I’ll post another excerpt or two in the next week or so.
Michael Chabon on Walter Tevis and Nicholas Meyer:
SC: In an interview with Mother Jones recently, you mentioned Nicholas Meyer. He had an interesting career – the wrote a Sherlock Holmes novel, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, and wrote and directed The Wrath of Khan, the second Star Trek movie.
Michael Chabon: That’s right, one of my favourites of all the Star Trek feature films. He was a big important figure for me. That first book of his, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution was a little light bulb over my head. It was the first piece of fan fiction I encountered, and in many ways I think it’s the supreme fan fiction, with pastiches that really do work and give you the feeling of reading something by Arthur Conan Doyle. And Wrath of Khan, when his name turned up on the credits I remembered how thrilled I was.
SC: And didn’t he make that time travel movie, Time After Time ?
Michael Chabon: The one with Malcolm McDowell and Mary Steenburgen, Jack the Ripper and H.G. Wells chasing each other… I love that movie.
Time After Time (1979), written and directed by Nicholas Meyer, features H.G. Wells chasing Jack the Ripper in modern-day San Francisco. Meyer would later go on to write and direct the second Star Trek movie, The Wrath of Khan.
I mentioned him at some point a long time ago, around the time when Kavalier & Clay was published. He got wind of it and sent me a note. And then he died shortly after.
SC: Are you a fan of Walter Tevis?
Michael Chabon: He’s a favourite of mine. I love Mockingbird, and of course the chess book, The Queen’s Gambit. I’ve reread it three times since the first time. I’ve turned my wife [Ayelet Waldman] onto it too, it’s one of her favourite books. He was such an odd writer, his writing career had such an odd trajectory. The Hustler, The Man Who Fell to Earth—and one of the greatest chess novels ever written.
If you see this book, buy it. Read it. Love it. Treasure it. Then keep buying copies to give to friends.