Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

Book Reviews | Jan 26th, 2007

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Author: Michael Chabon
Publisher: Random House
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 639
Retail Price: 9.99
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Amazing Adventures is a big, sprawling story about two Jewish comic book artists, cousins Joe Kavalier and Sammy Clay, living in 1940s New York City. Joe is an apprentice magician and Houdini aficionado who uses his skills to escape from Nazi-occupied Prague and arrive in America. His cousin Sammy, a native Brooklynite, is a small kid with a gimpy leg and vast imagination.

Sammy quickly befriends Joe and shares with him his enthusiasm for comic books. With Sammy’s ideas and Joe’s natural artistic talent, they begin creating their own successful comics, including The Escapist, a superhero who “comes to the rescue of those who toil in the chains of tyranny and injustice” and represents Sammy’s desire to be strong and Joe’s hatred of Nazism.

Escapism is the only theme that holds together well in this book. Joe escapes from the Nazis and later tries to escape from his grief and responsibilities. Sammy escapes into marriage to hide his true desires, and his wife Rosa escapes into her work (inking romance comics) to forget the man she really loves and believes is lost (Joe). And comic books themselves represent an escape.

But the other themes disparately never link up. The plot twists without any reason or closure so it feels like nothing is happening. The book plugs along solidly in the first half, but then quickly falls apart before the reader feels any satisfaction. In the second act, the teenage boys (to whom the book devotes 400 pages to) suddenly age by years every chapter. Suddenly, inexplicably, Joe is a WWII stationed in Antarctica; a story that begins and ends out of nowhere. We learn the fate of Sammy’s lover (the development of their relationship of which took 100 pages) in one sentence. Years suddenly pass and we are introduced to Rosa and Sammy’s 12-year old son. It seems Chabon has a lot of ideas, and rushes to start one before finishing another. Interesting events do take place, but because they aren’t fully fleshed out they seem disconnected and pointless.

Another problem is Chabon’s own superfluous, verbose style. Everything has to be described with long metaphors; sometimes the simplest declaration is drawn out to a page or two, making Amazing Adventures a very long and arduous read. That, coupled with his chunky, clunky storyline, makes this book — weighing in at 656 pages — extremely frustrating.

I can see how this book could become popular. It contains a well-researched, nostalgic look at old-school New York life, historical references, and a lot of emotion and romance. The main narrative – two boys creating a superhero to compensate for their physical and political desires – is very appealing. But after finally putting this book down, all I could think of was: “So?”

Bottom Line: Appealing but clunkily sprawling.
Favorite Part(s): I preferred the first half, when Kavalier and Clay are younger.
Overall Rating:


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