I devoured this book. Chabon creates an incredibly rich and nuanced setting, displaying a vast wealth of knowledge on as varied a group of subjects as comic books, Prague, 1940’s New York City, the practice of stage magic, and the human heart. He writes with authority and with a terrible facility, casually dropping endless metaphors, similies and descriptions that pierce the heart and leave one marveling at his talent. The man is a prodigy, and though at times this novel felt episodic, losing narrative drive in order to dwell and examine, expound and explore, one can’t help but be floored by this tour-de-force.
This book is so good that any criticism I make must be understood as to stem from a yearning for Chabon to have written a perfect book. Unfair? Of course. But when an author takes you to the very summit, and falters but a few paces from the peak, a selfish reader can’t help but wish for more rather than to be grateful for having already ascended so high.
I picture K&C as a house, complete with floors and rooms, and imagine Chabon having charted out a path he would take from front door to the master bedroom. However, despite knowing where he wanted to go, and how he was going to get there, I feel as if he would occasionally get lost within the living room, and for the sheer joy of examining the curios on the mantle piece forget to keep moving towards the door. The richness of his prose is a rare pleasure, but there is a lack of tightness to the writing – a sense of there being so much wealth in Chabon’s mind, so much detail he wishes to infuse the book with – that after awhile the reader begins to feel drained, over extended, not sufficiently buoyed by the pace of the novel and so, despite the brilliance of the writing, that the author is beginning to flounder slightly instead of propelling you on.
I can imagine the cat calls and hisses coming from the musician’s gallery.
The richness of the setting is almost startling. Chabon’s ability to vivisect his character’s emotions, desires, hopes and weaknesses is incredible. His imagination is almost too fertile, as page after page, for hundreds on end, he regales us with details and minutiae that convince us that he was there, that he observed the events and merely transcribed them rather than inventing them in his study at home. In his sheer pleasure of writing, I get the sense that plot at times comes a very slight second to all these other firsts.
Perhaps one shouldn’t read Chabon in such a frenzied rush as I did. I quibble because I sense that Chabon is capable of better. Instead of writing a merely brilliant book (that won the Pulitzer Prize), I believe he could have written a true classic. How? By disciplining his outrageously fecund talent, and hewing to a plot that does justice to the richness of the tale. Easy for me to advise from the sterile safety of my blog, but still, I hope that experience and time will give the still young Chabon the ability to lift his already heady works to the very peaks of creative writing achievement.