Monday, April 09, 2007

Three things

that recently made me very happy (actually it's four, Wayne Koestenbaum's reading this afternoon was of course an absolute delight), all deserving of lengthy and laudatory posts in their own right but falling victim here to the abbreviating forces of exhaustion & overwork:

1. Michael Chabon's quite enchanting new novel The Yiddish Policemen's Union, which my alternate self obtained from alternate-universe Amazon in 2006 but which arrived in my real-life mailbox not long ago & which made this weekend's flying-visit-to-Cambridge-on-Amtrak trip pass by in a FLASH. Seriously, a FLASH. It's one of those novels that when you come to the last page it just pains you to put it down, I want to read it again RIGHT NOW! It opens in a long lovely leisurely sequence (alternate-universe present-day Alaskan Jewish homeland, with Jewish resettlement imminent) that's a bit reminiscent of parts of Jonathan Lethem's Gun With Occasional Music--intelligent neo-noir--very enjoyable, too, with some nicely done alternate-historyish details and good character development--but for me the thing really snapped into high gear with the visit to the boundary maven Zimbalist. Chabon does this thing here that's so subtle it took me at least a hundred pages to notice it (also since I was reading so greedily), a switching-into-a-past-tense thing that is so cunning and so effective that I really must look back through and figure out exactly how he does it so that I can try it myself! The main narrative's written in a very attractive and unobtrusive present-tense voice, so that these inset chapters/stories (usually prompted by the detective's visit to someone who then unfolds this knowledge-in-the-form-of-narrative chunk of stuff that has its own legend-like magical coherence) are at once disorienting & deeply intensifying of the whole experience of the world of the book. There's a certain family resemblance to Kavalier & Klay, but the novel's just redolent of all sorts of other powerful & evocative things also, not least my intensely and particularly most favorite Chaim Potok novel The Chosen, a novel I read obsessively and repeatedly as a teenager & that I continue to read every few years as an adult (& that gained strange new traction on my imagination when I realized that my friend & former neighbor David Weiss Halivni, author among other things of a remarkable memoir called The Book and the Sword: A Life of Learning in the Shadow of Destruction, was a model for Reuven Malter's father in that book). I am curious to see how reviewers and readers will respond to this novel's political arguments (both implicit and explicit) about Jewish statehood--I imagine the book will be provoking in that regard to all sorts of readers--but I found it altogether enthralling, not least because Chabon's so good on this topic of what boys lose as they become men & the terrible pathos and embarrassment of virtually all aspects of adult male life! Very good stuff indeed, highly recommended...

2. And my destination in Cambridge was the truly excellent Actors' Shakespeare Project production of Titus Andronicus, directed by my dear old friend David Gammons. It's a wonderfully good production, you must go and see if it you get a chance (it's up through April 22 in Harvard Square, a very cool space in the basement of that shopping mall called the Garage); it's got a ton of nominations for awards and spectacular reviews and all that good stuff, the acting is amazing & everything about the production's just beautifully well done (including an extremely thoughtfully tailored script). Of course really Titus Andronicus is one of my very favorite Shakespeare plays, outside the obvious ones; I always remember Harold Bloom sort of gloating over the whole chef's-hat Marlovian grand guignol of it (the play provides a particularly good key to important elements of Hamlet, I think--and the Titus-dressed-like-a-cook cannibalism scene is especially beautifully costumed and acted here, that Robert Walsh makes an extraordinarily good Titus). I will refrain from pasting in huge tracts of delightfully violent and funny and harrowing lines from the play, but this is a production under the sign of Artaud that absolutely captures the spirit of Shakespeare's play--funny and grotesque and deeply moving all at the same time.

3. Last but not least, Bad Luck and Trouble, Lee Child's new Jack Reacher novel. I love these books. I will read them again and again, and if Lee Child would teach a one-day seminar on how to write absolutely prime top-quality delightful escapist fiction I would pay an extortionate amount of money to sit in, this guy really has a remarkable talent. The lightness of the touch is what always gets to me, especially given how violent the books are (but half the violence is staged, as it were--Jack Reacher sets things up like the author surely did in his former TV-producer life); everything about the pacing and the handling of characters and story is pretty much just plain perfect. The best analogy, I think, would involve some sort of comparison to the versions of junk food that four-star-restaurant chefs sometimes dabble in; potato chips really are just junk, they're delicious in tiny quantities but not satisfying, but then if you have some sort of absolute delicacy of potatoes gaufrette it is like the heavenly angelic sublimated version of a potato chip with the nourishing qualities and deliciousness of real food. The Jack Reacher books are the ultimate in light reading, I do love them more than almost anything else; I wish I could erase this one from my memory, in fact, and read it again right now for the first time....


  1. I am very, very (very!) envious of you for already having the new Chabon. Even more so when you say that it's like The Chosen, which I read approximately once a year, too.

    I saw the new Reacher at the bookshop on Saturday and showed remarkable restraint by not buying it. Yet. Must be strong and not buy books. For at least a few days.

  2. I just posted about my ability to completely forget crucial swaths of plot from detective novels!

    The universe has been pointing me towards Lee Child for awhile now, since Malcolm Gladwell confessed to loving the series a year ago. But I am trying to limit myself to new young series only, so I don't wind up obsessively reading tons of backstory novels all at one go.