Telegraph Avenue, by Michael Chabon


Dear Michael Chabon,

Despite your best efforts, your latest novel, Telegraph Avenue, was mostly an entertaining read. Of course getting to the story involved the Herculean effort of digging through obscure references (threefold moon goddess?), words not in my Kobo dictionary (mau-mau? segundigravida?), and the longest sentences I’ve encountered outside of dry academic journal articles. And then there were metaphors that just didn’t even seem to make any sense at all. (“Her son laid down his eating implements, carved from the tooth of a sea unicorn, and sighed.”) . My question to you is simple: Why? I can see that you are trying to tackle race issues through the record store co-owners, Archy (Black) and Nat (White). These two characters, along with their wives who are themselves business partners in a midwifery practice, are fascinating, if somewhat unbelievable. Archy is the son of former martial arts movie star Luther Stallings, whose former best friend is the most influential politician in Oakland and who committed a murder with Luther, back in the day. Nate’s son has a crush on Archy’s son, who turns up out of nowhere to announce his identity at age 16. The two wives, Gwen and Aviva, are dealing with several lawsuits associated with the tensions that arise between doctors and midwives when home births don’t go as planned. These characters are all over-written in Telegraph Avenue, yet their stories were compelling enough to keep me reading. But I almost didn’t. I almost got fed up with sentences like, “Archy picked up Rolando, snoozing in his caddy, and made a formal transfer of custody to the grandfather, England turning over Hong Kong, mournful trumpets of farewell, a weird ache in Archy’s heart like the forerunner or possibly the distant memory of tears.” Overwritten, needlessly wordy, unnecessary descriptions. Good chunks of this book were a downright slog to get through. But I persevered. And it feels like an accomplishment. Michael, I know you are capable of toning it down. You did it successfully with The Mysteries of Pittsburgh. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, your other big success, was vastly too long but I do have fond memories of that novel.  You know how to write a good story; now you just need to find a good editor. Until you do,  I will approach your next work with trepidation.


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