As the summer of 2004 draws to a close, Archy Stallings and Nat Jaffe are still hanging in there - longtime friends, bandmates, and co-regents of Brokeland Records, a kingdom of used vinyl located in the borderlands of Berkeley and Oakland. Their wives, Gwen Shanks and Aviva Roth-Jaffe, are the Berkeley Birth Partners, a pair of semi-legendary midwives who have welcomed, between them, more than a thousand newly minted citizens into the dented utopia at whose heart - half tavern, half temple - stands Brokeland Records.
When ex-NFL quarterback Gibson Goode, the fifth-richest black man in the United States, announces plans to build his latest Dogpile megastore on a nearby stretch of Telegraph Avenue, Nat and Archy fear it means certain doom for their vulnerable little enterprise. Meanwhile, Aviva and Gwen also find themselves caught up in a battle for their professional existence, one that tests the limits of their friendship. Adding another layer of complication to the couples' already tangled lives is the surprise appearance of Titus Joyner, the teenage son Archy has never acknowledged and the love of 15-year-old Julius Jaffe's life.
©2012 Michael Chabon (P)2012 HarperCollins Publishers
I love Michael Chabon's writing, and Telegraph Avenue merely fueled my opinion. Clarke Peters's top-notch delivery probably helped, but I frequently wished I had a paper copy of the text handy so I could share a particularly gorgeous excerpt with a friend, a student, or simply save it to reread and marvel over. The story is a daring and original amalgam of coming of age/revery/adventure/American classic/marriage hand book. . . Wow. The chapters told from the point of view of the 14 year old boys in which the moms are the enemies in their role-playing-samurai games are hysterical; even many of Chabon's throw away lines are remarkable for their original but effective writing. My one quibble, as with Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, is that Chabon's detailed descriptive eye falls on everything--and I don't really want/need to know the ins and outs (unfortunately, that is often literally true) of the characters' sexual activities. Personally, I am a believer in keeping certain parts of life private; practically, this kind of painstaking description makes it that much harder to use his novels in a high school classroom, which I'd love to do.
So: highly, highly recommended. Terrific reading and a terrific novel, but the subject matter can definitely veer into the R rated at times.
The narrator, definitely. Especially his swearing. Telegraph Avenue is one "motherf*cker"-enhanced audiobook, and this narrator really brings life & warmth to the humor & bravado & absurdity of Chabon's dialogues. Please, Audible: do whatever you can to make sure Clarke Peters reads us more books! He's 10,000 times more enjoyable to listen to than some of the uptight culture-heads who also do this work, and his acting is impeccable. Seriously: more Clarke Peters, please, and not just for books that feature Black characters. I'd listen to him do Dickens, Eugenides, whoever. He's great. And, oh yeah, Chabon's book is pretty good, too.
The characters are rich; the plot held my interest through all the twists and turns; the unique setting of the East Bay is perfectly captured in ways large and small; the descriptions of jazz are marvelous; the dark side of Oakland politics was portrayed better than any journalist has done. Clarke Peters' reading is so marvelous that I can't imagine just reading the book; my wife got used to me plugging my iPod into our stereo each evening saying "You've got to listen this this."
Writer, economist, stand-up comic
Story was not strong and at times confusing
Nostalgia and battle between modern and traditional, between old and young
Didn't breathe properly
Splendid use of different voices for each character.
More clear pronunciation of words.
A bit more vitality for the story.
No extreme reactions.
Novel has too many long intervals that provide little insight to ideas and make it too long.
I don't know - too many characters, he goes off on tangents. Nothing of interest so far. Nothing to keep my interest cause I can't follow the story, if there is one. Or is it just a bunch of characters? Entertainment Weekly gave it a B+ - fairly good review but I can't figure out a plot if there is one. I re-read the review to get some insight into what is supposed to be happening but I've given up. The only good thing - and it is great is Clarke Peters' narrative. His voice is very warm and sexy. I like to listen to him before bedtime because his voice is deep, soothing, and relaxing. I'll listen to it at night to help me sleep cause I really don't care about the story. When I was listening to it, I couldn't keep focused on it. One minute he's in present time, then he jumps to to the 70's then it's the midwives (they were at least interesting) and now it's back with the main character. I give up.
As I was listening to this book, I kept on going back and forth in my mind as to how much I really liked it. I was almost a third of the way through, and I still could not figure out where this story was headed.
I mean, it seemed like there should be no problem. Here are two guys with a used record store called "Brokeland Records" that is barely making it, and along comes an outside threat in the form of a competitor with a big, shiny, Amazon-like record store that is selling tons of stuff much cheaper than our heroes that is being backed by the local politician. And it turns out that both guys have interesting family issues. The real makings for a plot, resolution, etc. So why wasn't it going anywhere?
What I was listening to instead were extremely wordy data dumps about one character after another, got to know them inside-out. Also, there were abrupt changes of scene that, from a listening standpoint were jarring and disconcerting. I had to look at a physical copy of the book to make sure that there wasn't something wrong with the recording, that parts of the book hadn't been left out by mistake.
Then, somewhere almost halfway through the book, the plot wheezed to life, and the story finally started moving along in an extremely contrived way.
I only stuck it out because by that time I really wanted to know what was going to happen with the various characters. Mr. Chabon certainly has a gift for making characters believable and making the "reader" care about them. And because of Clarke Peters' great narration. In fact, I think I would have thrown the book over completely if someone other than Clarke Peters was narrating it.
I also enjoyed listening to some great turns of phrase that are generously sprinkled through the book. Here are some examples:
"Like all of Mr. Flowers' younger crop of nephews, they seemed not to be wearing their ill-fitting black suits so much as to be squatting inside them until some less embarrassing habitation came along."
"This was true; Cochise Jones had made funeral arrangements of Egyptian exactitude for himself and his partner in solitude."
"A paycheck, benefits. Archy imagined coming home with such things in his backpack, how it would be if he could meet Gwen's reproachful look with news like that, the 50 percent gain in domestic peace that would result if he could move from being shiftless and cheating to merely the latter. A stack of quarters to feed the meter, move the needle out of the red, way over to the right."
"Cool as a cup of crushed ice on the drums, though, El Boom kept time like an atom clock."
"He came at Archy's soul then with the flashlight and the crowbar of his gaze."
"It was not easy, dressed in skanky b-ball shorts and a Captain EO sweatshirt with cutoff sleeves, but Archy dived down deep and hauled up all the dignity he could snap loose from the sea bottom of his soul."
So you are in for an enjoyable listen if you can stomach the extreme wordiness, meandering dialog and contrived plot.
I have tried 4 times to listen to this novel; my mind wanders away. I thought I would enjoy reading a book about one of my favorite places, but I'm not getting the essence of Berkeley and Telegraph Avenue from this book, and it is a unique place.
Such a disappointment. Didn't care for the "groovy" (??) reading style of the narrator.
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