I closed the cover of this book and I felt...unsatisfied. This has never happened to me while reading a Michael Chabon novel and I'm trying to put my finger on exactly what rubbed me the wrong way about this ending. I think, after spending almost 500 pages with the characters, I wanted more to happen. I'm not saying that everything had to end happily ever after, but I wanted things to change more than they did. I felt in some cases (Titus and Julie, for example) that things sort of went backwards. I expected to finally have a strong reaction to Archy, the character who is the center of this story, but I still felt mostly ambivalent towards him. I think the only character who really had a journey during this book was Gwen.
Somehow, I also felt like the major themes in this novel were introduced but then skirted around.Chabon set up these great explorations of race relations by giving us a white couple and a black couple whose lives are intertwined on so many levels. But I feel as if I've spent more time trying to figure out which characters are actually which races than thinking about the ways in which we perceive each other. He also set up a competition between a mega media mogul and a small town record store. There was an initial confrontation, but somehow the end is reached without really addressing the issue of mega stores and mom and pop stores.
Michael Chabon is an incredibly talented author and I have enjoyed several of his books. This one didn't work for me as well as some of the others. There is still some very beautiful writing here and interesting relationships. If you are a Michael Chabon fan or someone who is really into music, you should definitely grab this book when it comes out in September.
I'm going to end my musings with two of my favorite quotes from this section:
"For years his life had balanced like the world of legend on the backs of great elephants, which stood on the back of a giant turtle, the elephants were his partnership with Archy, and Aviva's with Gwen, and the turtle was his belief that real and ordinary friendship between black people and white people was possible, at least here, on the streets of the minor kingdom of Brokeland, California. Here along the water margin, along the borderlands, along the vague and crooked frontier of Telegraph Avenue. Now that foundational pileup of bonds and beliefs was tottering, toppling like the tower of circus elephants in Dumbo. Not because anybody was a racist. There was no tragic misunderstanding, rooted in centuries of slavery and injustice. No one was lobbing vile epithets, reverting to atavistic tribalisms. The difference in class and education among the four of them canceled out without regard for stereotype or cultural expectations: Aviva and Archy both had been raised by blue-collar aunts who worked hard to send them to lower-tier colleges. The white guy was the high school dropout, the black woman upper-middle-class and expensively educated. It just turned out that a tower of elephants and turtles was no way to try to hold up a world."
"Amid the layers of conscious thought and the involuntary actions of her body, Gwen found herself in possession, coolly palmed in her thoughts like a dollar coin, of the idea that she was about to bring another abandoned son into the world, the son of an abandoned son. The heir to a history of disappointment and betrayal, violence and loss. Centuries of loss, empires of disappointment. All the anger that Gwen had been feeling, not just today or over the past nine months but all her life - feeding on it like a sun, using it to power her engines, to fund her stake in the American dream - struck her for the first time as a liability. As purely tragic. There was no way to partake of it without handing it on down the generations."
Thank you to Emily of As the Crowe Flies for hosting this readalong!
Curious about what happened earlier in the novel? You can check out post #1, post #2, post #3, and post #4.