There’s not a bad thing I can say about Micheal Chabon who, along with Jonathan Lethem and Haruki Marukami, make up the bulk of my (admittedly short) favorite living authors list. I’ve been hooked on Chabon’s nerd-filled work since my first read of ’Wonder Boys‘ 12 years ago, and his evolution from upstart novelist to an almost singlehanded keeper of the flame for the oft-derided pop culture influence of comic books and genre work has been just a joy to follow. Chabon is at heart a fan-boy’s author, and he (along with Lethem) mark the start of a literary age when generations raised on comic books are finding ways to incorporate those four color mythologies into our adult lives.
Chabon has been playing with genre fiction for some time now (and that is definitely a good thing. The state of the modern novel just annoys the hell out of me nowawdays. ), and The Yiddish Policeman’s Union finds him merging the pulp crime pot-boiler with a hearty does of ’What If?‘ by giving us an alternate Earth in which the founding of modern Israel didn’t happen, and the new homeland for the Jews is a polar bear infested strip of desolation on the Alaskan Gulf. Rather than treat us to a full history, the book starts out 50 years later as the territory is set to revert back to Alaskan control. This works with and against Chabon, as he’s able to give us a fully formed culture (with it’s own yiddish based slang mixed with Esperanto), but can leave you playing a game of catch-up as your brain fleshes out the meaning and intricacies of the society’s language and culture as the book moves on. In some ways it’s a lot like reading the translation of a regional author’s work, as you wonder if you’re missing cultural context that a non-native wouldn’t necessarily pick up.
Thankfully, those elements ultimately work in Chabon’s favor as they lend authenticity and depth to the book’s hard boiled detective story that has self-destructing homocide cop Meyer Landsman investigating the seedy underworld of orthodox gangs as his culture implodes all around him.
I’ve been getting more read time in (which I didn’t realize how much I missed until I started reading again) with the girls being a little less time intensive, so you’ll have to pardon my excitement over all the media I’ve been consuming recently. Now if I could just get someone to send me a copy of Al Gore’s ’The Assault on Reason‘, I’d be set.