Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon

Mike’s review

Haven’t been sold on Chabon yet; maybe this time?

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No part of Telegraph Ave is in West Oakland. Farthest east boundary of West Oakland is MLK. Capitalizing Flatlands is a real cute I don’t immerse myself here, but am I casual observer sort of thing to do (see lots of early drafts of things I’ve written).

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Turning left off Park Ave doesn’t take you away from Mormon Temple, but parallel, into Montclair, which it’s weird Flowers and Luther (black) are headed into Montclair (absolutely not black) after murdering someone.

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Maybe I’m being a geographic/homer dick here, but I feel like Chabon invites this scrutiny by opening in the portrait of the Flatlands brushstroke. The scene (seemingly, though not actually, we later find out) involves none of our main characters, so thereby is trying to show that the land is a character (I love this shit, but you better get it right). And, after all, the book is named after the land.

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Here’s what’s most irksome about Chabon’s style: how it flourishes for its own prettyness, devoid of meaning. Jacket describes book as an “intimate epic,” which means nothing, but sure does sound cute.

Baby is called random, even though he’s actually two degrees of separation from main characters and was invited into the scene by a main character.

“Luther shifted into first gear, standing on the gas pedal, balanced on it, and on the moment like the trumpet angel you saw from the Warren Freeway, perched at the tip of the Mormon temple, riding the wild spin of the world itself.” So many clauses. Clauses of clauses two clauses ago. Took forever to figure out what Chabon meant and he doesn’t really write what he wants you to think, but just makes some vague allusion and hopes you’ll figure it out. I’m not sure you can really accomplish this without the knowledge of the epiphanies of the Bay Area landscape pretty ceaselessly provide.

“lamentable lamentation” “unrelated relations”

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Am I supposed to feel sorry for these hipster fucks who are going to lose their business to an organization that’s designed to reinvigorate and enrich a black community (and probably make Goode (its owner) a shit-ton of money, but still. Helping on black man a lot and a handful of other black men a decent amount is a pretty good thing).

I suppose this ties into something of a plot summary: Two so-called adult men who have never done so much as approached growing up, but own a record store are threatened by a larger, more efficient record store/bunch of other stuff coming into the neighborhood. I basically, though not exactly, live in this actual neighborhood and its not a total shithole now, but when this book was set, it was a fucking wasteland of nothing. Let’s see, the men are married and are terrible to their families. One has a son he’s aware of, one just found out he has a son and this one’s wife is married. Everything turns out fine, in the book, but in real life everyone would be miserable and alone.

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Carquinez Bridge is not a flat-dweller’s reference. Bay, Golden Gate, Richmond, Caldecott Tunnel.

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There’s nowhere to sell plasma in Oakland, trust me, I’ve looked.

Mostly this review is me bitching about geography.

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How does feeling compassion for someone send you over the edge against said person?

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You don’t smell ocean in East Bay; you smell the much more stagnant and grosser Bay.

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Very sad Chabon made up a Self-Laundry rather than give a shout out to Advantage Laundry, which deserves one, as it is the best laundromat ever.

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Maybe this is an Oakland, but it’s certainly not my Oakland. And seriously, how many 40th St dwellers drive a BMW, own their house and attend (even as the band) $1,000/heard fundraisers for Obama. This is Chabon’s life transposed over new geography.

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I get the parrot chapter, but come on. It’s a pretty solid representation of all that is tedious/pretentious about Chabon. Could have at least had a disclaimer: No paragraph breaks. Very tedious. Please don’t start this chapter right before bed.

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Strange to explain everything about everything, but offer no explanation as to why an Oakland home has a basement.

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Chabon inundates the reader with so much meaningless info/small details that it becomes hard to keep hold of the big stuff. Page 392, final chapter, should only be important things, things coming to fruition. Archy dreams of his dead mother and I have to wrack my brain for any recollection of Archy’s mother, let alone of her death and I come up with nothing, but I guess it must be true and accept this fact anew.

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Reveling in a then for than typo.

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If you don’t live it, at least consult a map. MacArthur and Telegraph (in relation to 42nd and Telegraph) is not “way down Telegraph.” No more than six blocks. An easy walk.

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Here’s my nice thing to say: As wrought as calling a two-year old and old man wringing his hands is, the follow-up is pretty good. “Long as [out-there jazz] was playing, little Julius would stop looking like he was about to be audited by the IRS and just sat there, watching the music like a cat watching ghosts.”

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He it’s the final 10 pages/epilogue, let’s muddy everything up by not using people’s names, but vague descriptions previously unused when a character comes into a scene.

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I’ve had a lot of problems with Chabon’s understanding of Oakland, but this is the grossest error: $800 (even in mid-aughts) wouldn’t rent you shit-all in the way of commercial real estate.

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