Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is a true pleasure: extraordinarily well-written, fast-moving, rich in ideas and imagery, and populated throughout with strong, fascinating characters. It doesn't always make sense, mind you, and the ending is less than satisfying, but no matter! The journey is reward enough. Along the way are such poetic paragraphs as the description in Part III Chapter 10 of a major character's abode:

There was something unmistakably exultant about the mess that Rosa had made. Her bedroom-studio was at once the canvas, journal, museum, and midden of her life. She did not "decorate" it; she infused it. Sometime around four o'clock that morning, for example, half-disentangled from the tulle of a dream, she had reached for the chewed stub of a Ticonderoga she kept by the bed for this purpose. When, just after dawn, she awoke, she found a scrap of loose-leaf paper in her left hand, scrawled with the cryptic legend "lampedusa." She had run to the unabridged on its lonely lecturn in the library, where she learned this was the name of a small island in the Mediterranean Sea, between Malta and Tunisia. Then she had returned to her room, taken a big thumbtack with an enameled red head from an El Producto box she kept on her supremely "cluttered-up" desk, and tacked the scrap of paper to the eastern wall of her room, where it overlapped a photograph, torn from the pages of Life, of Ambassador Joseph Kennedy's handsome eldest son, tousled and wearing a Choate cardigan. The scrap joined a reproduction of Arthur Rimbaud at seventeen, dreaming with chin in palm; the entire text of her only play, a Jarr-influenced one-act called Homunculus Uncle; plates, sliced from art books, of a detail from Bosch that depicted a woman being pursued by an animate celery, of Edvard Munch's Madonna, of several Picasso "blue" paintings, and of Klee's Cosmic Flora; Ignatius Donnelly's map of Atlantis, traced; a grotesquely vibrant full-color photo, also courtesy of Life, of four cheerful strips of bacon; a spavined dead locust, forelegs arrested in an attitude of pleading; as well as some three hundred other scraps of paper bearing the numinous vocabulary of her dreams, a puzzling lexicon that included "grampus," "ullage," "parbuckle," and some entirely fictitious words, such as "luben" and "salactor." Socks, blouses, skirts, tights, and twisted underpants lay strewn across teetering piles of books and phonograph albums, the floor was thick with paint-soaked rags and chromo-chaotic cardboard palettes, canvases stacked four deep stood against the walls. She had discovered the surrealistic potential of food, about which she had rather pioneeringly complicated emotions, and everywhere lay portraits of broccoli stalks, cabbage heads, tangerines, turnip greens, mushrooms, beets — big, colorful, drunken tableaux that reminded Joe of Robert Delaunay.

Much later, in Part V Chapter 14, another protagonist muses about the meaning of his life and that of his cousin/collaborator:

He thought of the boxes of comics that he had accumulated, upstairs, in the two small rooms where, for five years, he had crouched in the false bottom of the life from which Tommy had freed him, and then, in turn, of the thousands upon thousands of little boxes, stacked neatly on sheets of Bristol board or piled in rows across the ragged pages of comic books, that he and Sammy had filled over the past dozen years: boxes brimming with the raw materials, the bits of rubbish from which they had, each in his own way, attempted to fashion their various golems. In literature and folklore, the significance and the fascination of golems — from Rabbi Loew's to Victor von Frankenstein's — lay in their soullessness, in their tireless inhuman strength, in their metaphorical association with overweening human ambition, and in the frightening ease with which they passed beyond the control of their horrified and admiring creators. but it seemed to Joe that none of these — Faustian hubris, least of all — were among the true reasons that impelled men, time after time, to hazard the making of golems. The shaping of a golem, to him, was a gesture of hope, offered against hoope, in a time of desperation. It was the expression of a yearning that a few magic words and an artful hand might produce something — one poor, dumb, powerful thing — exempt from the crushing strictures, from the ills, cruelties, and inevitable failures of the greater Creation. It was the voicing of a vain wish, when you got down to it, to escape. To slip, like the Escapist, free of the entangling chain of reality and the straitjacket of physical laws. Harry Houdini had roamed the Palladiums and Hippodromes of the world encumbered by an entire cargo-hold of crates and boxes, stuffed with chains, iron hardware, brightly painted flats and hokum, animated all the while only by this same desire, never fulfilled: truly to escape, if only for one instant; to poke his head through the borders of this world, with its harsh physics, into the mysterious spirit world that lay beyond. The newspaper articles that Joe had read about the upcoming Senate investigation into comic books always cited "escapism" among the litany of injurious consequences of their reading, and dwelled on the pernicious effect, on young minds, of satisfying the desire to escape. As if there could be any more noble or necessary service in life.

TopicLiterature - TopicPoetry - 2006-12-29

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