#readchabon, check-in the last: In Summary (spoiler warning!)

Kim and I have been reading Michael Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue together for the past month, along with anyone else who’s chosen to read it with us. We’ve been checking in here at The 3 R’s Blog

May 7: Section V (through page 465)
and tweeting our thoughts with the #readchabon hashtag.
We decided to talk about the last section of the novel and our reactions to the whole over e-mail this past weekend. Excerpts follow–and we did discuss some very specific plot points, so if you have not finished Telegraph Avenue yet, beware of spoilers!
"Brokeland Records," aka Diesel Books, Oakland CA (Sept. 2012)
 Oakland’s Diesel Bookstore transformed into “Brokeland Records” for the September 2012 release of Telegraph Avenue.
Florinda: I finished the book this morning, and was mostly satisfied with the ending (and I didn’t really expect to be, so that was a nice surprise).

Kim: I liked it too, although I didn’t see the real estate sales thing coming? Did they hint or set that up earlier? I may have missed it.

I’m still not sure I get the point of the plot with Luther and Chan, aside from some intrigue, a way to stop Dogpile, and to give Archy daddy issues. Although now that I type it, maybe that’s enough? I guess it just seemed disconnected to me. I’d have rather spent more time with the foursome of Gwen and Archy and Nat and Aviva.

What did you like/not like about the ending?


FI think you answered your own question :-). I really don’t know either, because in some ways it’s a plot contrivance, and as much as I adore Chabon, he’s not above plot contrivances (which usually seem to involve characters he’s more interested in than I am).

I don’t remember any hint of the real-estate thing earlier either. I hope it works out.

My favorite thing about the last section? Gwen deciding to go to med school. I hope that works out too–maybe she and Aviva could have an innovative OB practice a few years down the road.

I was really worried we were going to get an unwarranted tragedy of some kind at the end, although I couldn’t guess what–I had this weird sense of foreboding going into the last section. I’m glad I was wrong.


K: That’s the word I wanted. The Luther/Chan storyline felt contrived which somehow seems lazy for a writer as good as Chabon. In some ways, the real estate deal and Gwen going to medical school are also a little contrived. I didn’t see either of them coming, so they seem a little convenient. I do love the idea of Gwen in med school though, and I hope she and Aviva are ok eventually.

I thought there was going to be some tragedy too. I mean, the section is called “Brokeland,” so it seemed likely something would fall apart. But it really was pretty positive, all things considered. No one died, and all of the characters that I think we’re supposed to like seem headed off in positive directions.

You’ve mentioned a couple times that Chabon is often more interested in some characters than you are — can you explain what you mean? Is something he’s done in other books? This is only my second of his (my first was The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay), so I’m not sure if I’ve seen that as much.


F: I don’t recall any characters that Chabon was more interested in than I was in …Kavalier and Clay, but there was definitely one in The Mysteries of Pittsburgh (where most of the last chapter seems to come from somewhere else) and a couple in Wonder Boys (who don’t show up in the movie, so maybe I wasn’t the only one who felt that way about them!). In Telegraph Avenue,  it was mostly the kids (Titus more than Julie)–I understand why they’re in the story, but I’m just not into them.

I’m sorting out how to approach my review–it feels different when you’ve already been talking about a book for a month. There were times I totally loved it, times it frustrated me, very few times when it bored me…but I don’t think it’s dislodged Wonder Boys as my favorite of his novels.


KYeah, I didn’t find Titus and Julie that interesting either. But I felt similarly about Luther and Valetta, like they were expanding out a story that I would have liked to stay more contained. But that may also be asking something different from the book than what Chabon was trying to do.

… I think my overall impression of this one is that it felt more ambitious than it needed to be. I loved parts and was frustrated by parts, but I always had a little nagging feeling like it was sprawling too much and that it would have been able to say more if Chabon had tried to do a little less.

That said, the writing was just gorgeous — visceral and raw and evocative and all those good adjectives. He’s a pleasure to read, even when the story isn’t going where you want or expect it to go. 


F: I may just have to quote you on this: “I think my overall impression of this one is that it felt more ambitious than it needed to be. I loved parts and was frustrated by parts, but I always had a little nagging feeling like it was sprawling too much and that it would have been able to say more if Chabon had tried to do a little less” because I think you nailed it. I really enjoyed reading it–it seemed to move quickly, and I never felt bogged down–but its reach was a little too long. I generally applaud that kind of ambition, and feel a little let down when it doesn’t stick the landing. But when someone writes the way Chabon does, the letdown isn’t quite as rough.

I still need a little time to work out what to say in my “for the record” review of Telegraph Avenue (which probably will include some things I’ve said already), but I really need to thank Kim right now for suggesting we tackle it as a “buddy read”–months after we both brought galleys of the novel back from BEA 2012!

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