Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon is set in Northern California, where Berkeley and Oakland meet. It’s 2004, and business partners Archy and Nat have just learned that a former NFL quarterback plans to open a music superstore in their shared hometown, placing their used record store in jeopardy. Midwife-partner wives, philandering husbands, and never-before-mentioned children add to the drama.
Telegraph Avenue was slow going for me, first because that just wasn’t a world I wanted to visit, but then because I didn’t want to miss a single word. Chabon’s writing is something of an art form. You can open the book to any page, choose a sentence at random, and marvel at the work that went into the structure. Like on page 107, when Archy has stopped to check out the former Golden State market, the building in which his future competition will be housed. Through Chabon, Archy sees: “The mysteriously virginal circle of white concrete where, at the nexus of all earthly desire, there had stood a coin-operated peewee carousel with fiberglass horses, grinding around their tiny orbit in a way that only a kid could have found magical.”
Turn the page and there’s another one, where Chabon describes Archy’s stop at Neldam’s bakery. “The cakes and cookies at Neldam’s were not first-rate, but they had an old-fashioned sincerity, a humble brand of fabulousness, that touched Archy in this time when everything good in life was either synthesized in transgenic cyborg vats or shade-grown in small batches by a Buddhist collective of blind ex-carmelite Wiccans.”
So should a reader forego personal taste for really good writing? For Michael Chabon, absolutely.