The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
There is no way you can read THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER AND CLAY in one sitting. You are going to savor this thing like it's the best cheesecake you've ever had in your life, and perhaps the last --- thus, you will take small bites, really digest every piece, enjoy it, love it and never forget it. Michael Chabon, a rock star among American authors, takes every ample ounce of his head and heart to infuse this story with amplified life, making THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER AND CLAY one of the richest and most satisfying books you will ever read. (Well, at least since his last masterpiece, WONDER BOYS, recently made into a very funny film starring that old filthbag-who-still-has-talent Michael Douglas.) The story is, well, not simple, but not as complicated as the endless twists and turns of the book might lead you to believe.
In 1939, Joe Kavalier, a young artist who has also been trained in the art of Houdini-esque escape, comes to New York after smuggling himself out of Nazi-occupied Prague. Looking for big cashola in order to fund the release of his family from Prague before they are persecuted, Joe teams up with his cousin, the competitively noncommittal Sammy Clay, in order to create a great American literary product --- the comic book. In the rough-and-tumble semi-Superman character they name the "Escapist," they allow their fears and dreams and horrible hopes to take physical shape. And, since they're guys, they give the "Escapist" a little nookie prize, an avatar of the great comic book mistresses of the dark, one LunaMoth --- Luna is inspired by the beautiful, mysterious Rosa, their real-life prewar love object. As the shadow of Hitler casts a darkness over Europe and ultimately the world, the boys end up immersed in the Golden Age of Comic Books, finding greater fame and trouble than they could have possibly imagined at the start.
The chewy, eggy-rich endeavor with which you eat the world's greatest cheesecakes (a big shout out to my mother here) is a perfect way to describe how you will literally sink your teeth into this massive tome. THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER AND CLAY really makes me think of a great movie, like The Godfather, an epic which uses everybody's favorite war, W.W.II, as a metaphor for something much bigger than the war itself --- the goals of the characters replete with larger-than-life meaning, the comic book fantasies richly textured, layered elements transposing real events into mystical quests. It's Harry Potter for intelligent adults.
Neurotic boys don't usually do it for me, in real life or as characters in a book, and often they send me into such a state that the annoying Amaya's stupidity on "The Real World Hawaii" suddenly seems so much more worth my attention. But Joe and Sammy aren't your normal kvetchers, and THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER AND CLAY is not your average novel. It reaches for and successfully achieves a transcendent bridge that joins intellect and adventure in original and compelling ways.
Chabon is a genius --- there is no other way to describe his ability to blend Hitler, comic books, brotherhood, first love, fame and the pitfalls of celebrity, Brooklyn Jewish home life, the European struggle against the Third Reich, America's growing prosperity, and good-looking women who use their smarts and their curves to get ahead in the world together in such a cohesive, complete story. In the hands of a lesser artist, something this complex would have been lousy, like your run-of-the-mill, when-does-this-thing-end, foreign-intrigue, bestseller list swill; but instead THE AMAZING ADVENTURES OF KAVALIER AND CLAY looks like a title you will be seeing on many a serious literary book awards' shortlist in the coming year (except for the National Book Award --- did you people read this one?).
Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on August 24, 2001