The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
By Michael Chabon
Picador August 2000
Sammy Clay is cautious when his cousin from Prague, Joe Kavalier moves into the New York City apartment he shares with his mother. Before long, he discovers that they are a talented team in the new world of comic books –Sammy comes up with the stories and Joe is an amazing artist. As Joe focuses all of his efforts on getting his family safely out of Nazi-invaded Europe, the boys find themselves at the height of the comic book world as they invent beloved characters like The Escapist and Luna Moth.
Mr. Chabon is an immensely talented writer. Reading one of his books always feels like reading an engrossing classic. This novel is extremely dense, chock-full of fascinating characters, engaging locales, and a great story. The two cousins are very different, but both are compelling.
“Over the years, reminiscing for friends or journalists or, still later, the reverent editors of fan magazines, Sammy would devise and relate all manner of origin stories, fanciful and mundane and often conflicting, but it was out of a conjunction of desire, the buried memory of his father, and the chance illumination of a row-house window, that the Escapist was born. As he watched Joe stand, blazing, on the fire escape, Sammy felt an ache in his chest that turned out to be, as so often occurs where memory and desire conjoin with a transient effect of weather, the pang of creation. The desire he felt, watching Joe, was unquestionably physical, but in the sense that Sammy wanted to inhabit the body of his cousin, not possess it. It was, in part, a longing – common enough among the inventors of heroes – to be someone else; to be more than the result of two hundred regimens and scenarios and self-improvement campaigns that always ran afoul of his perennial inability to locate an actual self to be improved. Joe Kavalier had an air of competence, of faith in his own abilities, that Sammy, by means of constant effort over the whole of his life, had finally only learned how to fake.”
There is a great mix of true and invented history here. We visit with great authors and artists, and New York City of the 1940s is so detailed that it almost becomes a character itself through Joe and Sammy’s eyes. When I read Chabon’s work, I can always tell that he has done an immense amount of research, even when he cheekily writes, “I have tried to respect history and geography wherever doing so served my purposes as a novelist, but wherever it did not I have, cheerfully or with regret, ignored them.”
Despite the 600 plus pages, this book maintains the readers’ interest for the most part. It starts to lag towards the end when one of the characters enlists in the army and ends up somewhere far, far away from New York City. This section of the book just doesn’t really seem to fit into the rest of the story. While the segment is entertaining, it didn’t add anything to the story arc as a whole.
This is a serious book. It’s a novel to savor, not one to breeze through. That being said, this is a wonderful book with excellent writing and characters who you will love through all of their failings and triumphs.