The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay
By Michael Chabon
Powell's Books on Hawthorne, 3723 SE Hawthorne Blvd
Thurs, Oct 12

"Cold air burned his cheeks." This is the kind of description designed to create atmosphere but which ends up coming across like padding. Hundreds of thousands of conventional novels are filled with billions of sentences like this one; even though you would think, after the radical transformations wrought upon the novel form from James Joyce to James Ellroy, that no living writer would have the patience to write dull filler-sentences, such as sentences that describe the weather, or the views from a convenient vantage point.

Michael Chabon's new novel, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, is so good, you wonder why he settled for such a conventional sentence. Chabon, the author of two short story collections and two novels (one of them turned into the movie Wonder Boys), hasn't attempted before a work of this scope or historical detail. Starting off in the pre-war era, Kavalier is the story of two Jewish kids in Brooklyn who invent a world-famous comic book character: they base The Escapist loosely on the two men who created Superman, Sammy Clay and his cousin Joe Kavalier--a recent refuge from eastern Europe. The Escapist is a marvelous escape-artist superhero, also based on Kavalier's own experiences training to be the next Houdini.

Chabon weaves a complicated and interesting thread about the Golem, the clay-based protector of the Jews whom Chabon treats as a real thing. Chabon marbles the book with variations on the theme of escape and protection, and it all holds together like a finely honed Nabokovian watchworks.

For all the brilliance evinced in his new book, Chabon is still writing conventional novels, a more or less dead art form, though obviously popular with the masses in its cruder format. If anyone is in a position to radically rethink the novel, it is Chabon, who is respected and could take readers and critics alike to new places. Chabon is a fine writer with the potential for greatness who needs to make a important, daring, aesthetic leap which will help him escape becoming the next John Updike.