Friday, July 24, 2020

Gentlemen of the Road by Michael Chabon

I’ve been a Michael Chabon fan since around the time Kavalier and Clay came out in paperback. I watched the movie adaptation of his book Wonder Boys, but Waldenbooks didn’t have a copy of it. They did have Kavalier and Clay and I saw it had won the Pulitzer. It really blew me away. Later I did track down a copy of Wonder Boys and I read the library’s copy of Mysteries of Pittsburgh in a day. I got Summerland when it came out and, despite not caring for baseball, really enjoyed his take on YA fantasy. I still haven’t read his “late 20th Century Realist” (his terms) short story collections, but I’ve read his first two collections of essays and I had read all his novels save this one. Kavalier and Clay and The Yiddish Policeman’s Union are two of the best books of the century so far. His most recent, Moonglow was nearly as good. The only one I haven’t liked was Telegraph Avenue. So when I got into an online discussion this weekend about Chabon and remembered how much I enjoyed his work I got my copy of this, purchased not too long after it was published as a book (after being serialized in the NYT) off the shelf and read it in a couple sittings. While I don’t like it quite as well as some of his other work it is a highly enjoyable swashbuckler.

The main reason I haven’t read his realist short stories is Chabon’s own fault in a way. In an introduction to a McSweeney’s genre story collection he edited, he seemed to all but call those stories boring. I’ve been primed to not like a book before, but never by its author! In the afterward to this, Chabon clarifies that he still stands by those stories, which was a relief. Still, Chabon’s enthusiasm for genre work was evident in Kavalier and Clay. One of the things that drew me to him was that he was an excellent mainstream writer who was making the argument that genre fans and authors have been making for years, that every genre had great work in it, and just because something was not SF or Crime or whatever, it wasn’t automatically better than works in those genres. He put his money where his mouth was with a fantasy YA novel, a novella in the manner of Arthur Conan Doyle and an amazing alternate history noir. And here he continued that trend with a book that is basically sword and sorcery without the sorcery.

(As an aside, that same McSweeney’s collection Chabon edited had a story called How Carlos Webster Changed His Name to Carl and Became A Famous Oklahoma Lawman which was my introduction to one of my favorite writers, Elmore Leonard. As much as I like Chabon for his own work, I’m as grateful for the literary introduction.)

The novel begins with a great fakeout, which I will try not to spoil. The story concerns two jewish bandits (Gentlemen of the Road) one African and the other Frankish who get caught up in a civil war. The serialized structure gives the book tremendous energy. I have to admit to having not read Fritz Leiber or Michael Moorcock who were the template for this type of story, but this made me more likely to pick up some Moorcock at least. This is far from my top Chabon book, but it is very good. A fast paced well written adventure story that I enjoyed thoroughly.


Owned But Previously Unread 2020 53/75

No comments:

Post a Comment