A Bird of Wide Experience is the shortest section of this book and it gives us a literal birds eye view of the characters living on Telegraph Avenue. Fifty Eight, the beloved parrot of Mr. Cochise Jones, flies overhead in his search for a good place to land. This section didn't do a lot for me, mostly because it was an eleven page sentence. I didn't feel like it added too much to the story and, for me, it seemed to break up the rhythm that Chabon has established throughout the rest of the book.
After reading section 3, I realized that Chabon writes some really long sentences. This is by far the longest, but he will often spend a whole paragraph with just one sentence. Most of the time, this works well. On occasion, I found myself getting lost in a sentence though and having to backtrack to figure out what we were originally talking about.
Section four, Return to Forever, is back to normal with a lot of plot for the reader to take in. At this point in the story, I don't want to reveal a lot of the story. It sort of takes away the impetus for you to read it if I tell you everything, doesn't it? This section centers around the funeral of Mr. Jones - the preparations for the service, the beginning of the grieving process, and the actual service.
I thought that this section built nicely upon the ideas of family and generations that were explored earlier. In the pages we read this week, I felt that Chabon was illustrating that family is a choice. We are seeing the bonds that characters have with the family that is theirs by blood and the bonds they have with family they choose. In each of these circumstances, they have to choose to maintain the relationship - to get to know the grandfather they never expected to find, to reconsider the philandering husband, to think about going down in flames with your best friend because it's the right things to do. I'm really struck by the ways so many of these characters are relating to each other in moments big and small that they are there for each other, despite all of the tough times they are going through.
The interplay of race continues to be a huge them throughout this book. In earlier sections, I think some of us felt that Chabon was taking the easy way out, making obvious choices. But as the book goes on, I am finding that our author is actually very careful in the way he portrays race and the way people of different races interact with each other. Some things seem obvious, even painfully so. But we have to remember that sometimes these things are so imprinted in our consciousness because they have some truth to them. Then Chabon turns around and pulls an unexpected punch, like having Julius acknowledge that he is awful because he is about to assume that the man in a turban is a taxi driver. As readers, we are so focused on black and white that we don't consider how they relate to people of other backgrounds!
Throughout the book, Chabon has bookended the sections with images of Julie and Titus. The travels of these two boys, one white and one black, are some of the most lyrical phrases in the whole book. Take this one, for example:
"A last morning flag of summer, blue banded with gold and peach, unfurled slowly over the streets as the two wanderers, denizens of the hidden world known to rogues, gamblers, and swordsmen as "the Water Margin," made their way along the Street of Blake toward the ancestral stronghold of the Jew-Tang Clan, its gables armored in cedar shakes faded to the color of dry August hills. Armed merely with subtle weapons of loneliness, they left behind them, like a trail of dead, the disappointment of their tenure at the School of the Turtle. They were little more than boys, and yet while they differed in race, in temperament, and in their understanding of love, they were united in this: The remnant of their boyhood was a ballast they wishes to cut away. And still boyhood operated on their minds, retaining all its former power to confound wishes with plans."
I think most of us have a guess about the way this book will end. We all expect a happy ending, don't we? I rather suspect, though, that this author will have a few tricks up his sleeve for us in the final section of this book. Make sure to check back next week to find my thoughts on the last section of this book!