As the summer of 2004 draws to a close, Archy Stallings and Nat Jaffe are still hanging in there—longtime friends, bandmates, and co-regents of Brokeland Records, a kingdom of used vinyl located in the borderlands of Berkeley and Oakland. Their wives, Gwen Shanks and Aviva Roth-Jaffe, are the Berkeley Birth Partners, two semi-legendary midwives who have welcomed more than a thousand newly minted citizens into the dented utopia at whose heart—half tavern, half temple—stands Brokeland.
When ex–NFL quarterback Gibson Goode, the fifth-richest black man in America, announces plans to build his latest Dogpile megastore on a nearby stretch of Telegraph Avenue, Nat and Archy fear it means certain doom for their vulnerable little enterprise. Meanwhile, Aviva and Gwen also find themselves caught up in a battle for their professional existence, one that tests the limits of their friendship. Adding another layer of complication to the couples’ already tangled lives is the surprise appearance of Titus Joyner, the teenage son Archy has never acknowledged and the love of fifteen-year-old Julius Jaffe’s life.
An intimate epic, a NorCal Middlemarch set to the funky beat of classic vinyl soul-jazz and pulsing with a virtuosic, pyrotechnical style all its own, Telegraph Avenue is the great American novel we’ve been waiting for. Generous, imaginative, funny, moving, thrilling, humane, triumphant, it is Michael Chabon’s most dazzling book yet. (Summary provided by Harper.)
I’m pretty sure I won’t be the only reviewer to make the following statement: Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon is the literary equivalent of a Quentin Tarantino film. This makes me happy, because I love me some Tarantino! Like Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown, Telegraph Avenue possesses that funky 1970s vibe so many others have tried to emulate after Tarantino while never fully grasping the nostalgic blend of the 1970s and whatever time period they were trying to stir into the mix. Chabon gets it. He plays that 70s vibe like Miles Davis on trumpet.
Chabon’s novel takes place in 2004, but in Chabon’s Oakland, California circa 2004 leisure suits of various styles and brands are sported, muscle cars still roam the streets, and vinyl records are treated with reverence by the forty and older crowd in the community. One of the characters even has a catch phrase! Every time Valletta Moore said, “Do what you got to do. And stay fly,” I caught myself doing the same hand motion she’s described as doing when she says it in the book. Yes, I was seriously into this one.
The book centers around Archy Stallings, Archy’s wife Gwen Shanks, Archie’s best friend and business partner at Brokeland Records Nat Jaffe, and Nat’s wife Aviva Roth-Jaffe (who is also Gwen’s business partner and best friend). Throughout the course of the novel the two families deal with stress from each of the businesses, infidelity, fallout from finding out one of the men has a “long lost” son, and the loss of a close friend. The possibility of wealthy sports star, Gibson Goode, building a large shopping center containing a mega music store (Dogpile) in the neighborhood threatens to put Brokeland Records, a longstanding Telegraph Avenue institution, out of business. Archy and Nat are at odds over how to deal with what is sure to be certain death of the store if Dogpile opens up. Of the characters the book centered around, Gwen was my favorite. Gwen had a whirlwind of troubles come her way over the course of the book, and she handled each one with dignity and pride.
The characters fit flawlessly into the world Chabon has created. I lost track of how many POVs (points of view) are in the novel. However, with each POV shift Chabon executed a unique and memorable character. Even characters who only had one scene from his or her POV (such as the awesome Mr. Nostalgia) were memorable. I mention the many POV shifts because I haven’t read many books in the past couple of years with such a huge cast of characters.
Telegraph Avenue is full of character little quirks and eccentricities. For example, one character goes everywhere with his pet parrot perched on his shoulder. Gibson Goode has a luxury zeppelin that he flies around and entertains people in. I loved it when one of the characters thought of Goode’s zeppelin as an evil lair, because every book needs a character with an evil lair. Really. More books with evil lairs please! And more books from Michael Chabon. Telegraph Avenue was a delight.
Many thanks to TLC Book Tours for having me on the Telegraph Avenue tour. Be sure to check out the other tour stops below.
Tuesday, September 11th: Layers of Thought
Wednesday, September 12th: The Year in Books
Thursday, September 13th: Book Him Danno!
Friday, September 14th: The Scarlet Letter
Monday, September 17th: she treads softly
Tuesday, September 18th: Book Addict Katie
Wednesday, September 19th: Iwriteinbooks’s blog
Monday, September 24th: Dreaming in Books
Wednesday, September 26th: The Feminist Texican [Reads]
Monday, October 1st: The Book Garden
Tuesday, October 2nd: Man of La Book
Wednesday, October 3rd: The Well-Read Wife
Thursday, October 4th: Lit and Life
Friday, October 5th: Book Club Classics!
TBD: The House of the Seven Tails
TBD: An Unconventional Librarian
TBD: The Written World
FTC Disclosure Statement: I received a complimentary review copy of Telegraph Avenue from the publisher via TLC Book Tours. I also receive a small commission from any purchases made by clicking through the Amazon links throughout the site.