I completed reading Michael Chabon’s brilliant “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay” this afternoon. I found myself so attached to the characters of Josef Kavalier, Sam (Sammy) Clay and Rosa Saks that I was saddened to let them go when the last words of the last paragraph slipped past my lips and into my gray matter. Chabon, author of another one of my favorites, “Wonder Boys”, wrote a beautiful/literate tale about love, friendship, family, escapism, art, comic books, sexual identity, and most of all, hope. The last book to draw me in this way and sweep me into another world was Steinbeck’s “East of Eden”, which I worked through a couple of summers ago.
It’s not just the story, though; it is Chabon’s writing that is so rich with description and language. This man loves to write. But his tone is never condescending. He’s not trying to throw words at you to show off. Each sentence was carefully crafted.
The novel weaves the story of Josef and Sam, cousins thrown together in pre WWII New York. Together, they go on to create a series of Golden Age comic book superheroes, most prominent, The Escapist. In addition to an epic tale that spans almost two decades and three continents, Chabon has written an argument on the legitimacy of comic books as an art. I know from my own childhood of sneaking into the basement to read X-Men and Superman that a certain shame and embarrassment can be associated with comic book reading. Even today, some people I know scoff at comics as “kiddie books”. But Chabon, a longtime comic book aficionado, using comparisons to fine art and motion pictures to state his case and does so convincingly.
What I love best about this book is the sheer joy it was to have these words flow over me. Some I would have to go past, not knowing the definition. Others I had to scramble and look up. This excitement of discovering a new language, so to speak, was inspiring. From page 1 of this book, I wanted to jump back into my own writings and try to make them better.
What this book gave me more than anything else, though, is hope. Hope has been missing in my life lately. Somewhere in the past couple of years, hope has been trying to visit, but I’ve kept the shade drawn and screened my phone calls. Why? Why have I closed off the one part of my life that I need more than anything else to survive the many trials and ordeals that our life throws at us? If I don’t have hope, how can I preach to my kids that they must have hope? A great book like “Kavalier and Clay” goes to great lengths to show us that hope is sometimes lost, but it can be found. We have to open our hearts to welcome it home.
I’m trying. Man, I’m fucking trying. Until I can really feel my heart swell up with the type of optimism I used to feel, I’ll have to carry the words of Michael Chabon. I know, I know, I might think about turning to something more spiritual. Not sure if I’m ready for that yet. Not sure if God is ready for me.
While it took me a month to finish Chabon’s book, this was one marathon that didn’t have me staggering to the end. I finished strong and proud, for a change. Thank you Mr. Chabon. And thank you Kavalier and Clay.