Michael Chabon's new novel, TELEGRAPH AVENUE, should come with a CD, a playlist, or, more fittingly, a 78 RPM vinyl record with its soundtrack at the reader's fingertips. Chabon, in fact, cites a few music websites in the acknowledgments section of his book, but one gets the sense --- given the exuberance and depth with which he writes about the "soul-funk" at the novel's core --- that he pretty much was a fan of this genre before he ever set fingers to keyboard.
If music is at the center of the novel emotionally, then the record store called Brokeland is at its center geographically. Straddling the line between Berkeley and Oakland, California, the store is both the physical and spiritual center of the neighborhood. And, in a move that is somehow completely convincing despite its obvious thematic potential, Brokeland is owned and operated by two friends who also embody this neighborhood.
"Reading Chabon's prose can be both exhilarating and exhausting (in the best possible way). His sentences are so carefully crafted, so muscular in their vocabulary and metaphor, that readers can feel almost overwhelmed at times... But his prose and storytelling are also deeply compassionate..."
Archy is black, the son of a nearly-forgotten blaxploitation star from the ’70s. He and his wife, Gwen, are expecting their first child any day, but their household is far from a scene of domestic tranquility. Archy has been fooling around, and Gwen, a midwife, feels her business threatened by Berkeley's medical establishment. Archy's partner, Nat, is white and Jewish, the husband of Aviva, Gwen's mentor in midwifery, and the father of a teenage son who's exploring his sexuality with another boy, Titus, who (as it turns out) has his own connection with Archy.
Archy and Nat, in addition to their personal dilemmas, are on the cusp of a professional crisis. The year is 2004 (as we discover when a certain young senator from Illinois makes a cameo following his appearance at the DNC), and sales of vinyl reco