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The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay | [Michael Chabon]

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

It's 1939, in New York City. Joe Kavalier, a young artist who has also been trained in the art of Houdiniesque escape, has just pulled off his greatest feat: smuggling himself out of Hitler's Prague. He's looking to make big money, fast, so that he can bring his family to freedom. His cousin, Brooklyn's own Sammy Clay, is looking for a partner in creating the heroes, stories, and art for the latest novelty to hit the American dreamscape: the comic book. Inspired by their own fantasies, fears, and dreams, they create the Escapist.
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Publisher's Summary

Pulitzer Prize, Fiction, 2001

It's 1939, in New York City. Joe Kavalier, a young artist who has also been trained in the art of Houdiniesque escape, has just pulled off his greatest feat: smuggling himself out of Hitler's Prague. He's looking to make big money, fast, so that he can bring his family to freedom. His cousin, Brooklyn's own Sammy Clay, is looking for a partner in creating the heroes, stories, and art for the latest novelty to hit the American dreamscape: the comic book.

Inspired by their own fantasies, fears, and dreams, Kavalier and Clay create the Escapist, the Monitor, and the otherworldly Mistress of the Night, Luna Moth, inspired by the beautiful Rosa Saks, who will become linked by powerful ties to both men. The golden age of comic books has begun, even as the shadow of Hitler falls across Europe.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is a stunning novel of endless comic invention and unforgettable characters, written in the exhilarating prose that has led critics to compare Michael Chabon to Cheever and Nabokov. In Joe Kavalier, Chabon has created a hero for the century.

©2012 Brilliance Audio, Inc.

What the Critics Say

"Michael Chabon can write like a magical spider, effortlessly spinning out elaborate webs of words that ensnare the reader with their beauty and their style." (Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

4.2 (1205 )
5 star
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3 star
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Overall
4.2 (1086 )
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Story
4.4 (1066 )
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Performance
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  •  
    Dubi New York, NY, United States 04-28-14
    Dubi New York, NY, United States 04-28-14

    People say I resemble my dog (and vice-versa). He can hear sounds I can't hear, but I'm the one who listens to audiobooks.

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    "Kavalier & Clay, Meet Strunk & White"
    Is there anything you would change about this book?

    Maybe if Michael Chabon had applied the principles of Strunk & White to Kavalier & Clay, we would have ended up with a readable classic rather than interminable bore. "Omit needless words," S&W advise. "Make every word tell." That's what I would change: I would edit my work. Instead, Chabon wants to show off, leaving his story and characters behind as collateral damage.

    After listening for over 26 hours, I could write a treatise nearly as long containing all the examples of how Chabon has overblown what may have otherwise been a lively, peppy novel of average length. But I will choose just one to explain myself (in a world where K&C has received nearly universal praise, including of course its Pulitzer Prize, leaving me in a tiny minority of puzzled, worn-out readers).

    Amid the ruins of the 1939 World's Fair, Chabon's omniscient third-person narrator explains Sammy Clay's emotions: "It made him sad, not because he saw some instructive allegory or harsh sermon ... but because ... he had known all along that like childhood, the Fair was over..." I could have reduced that sentence to even less than those 28 words, but Chabon uses 96 -- 96 words for a sentence that starts with the word "It" (after an 84-word sentence that starts with "it" and a 104-word sentence that includes 16 commas).

    Chabon spews forth this vomitus of words to tell us not to look for any metaphors in the ruins of the fair beyond the simple (even trite, I would argue) childhood's end. He tells this to us, the readers -- Sammy himself, the narrator says within that run-on sentence, is "too young to have such inklings." And he doesn't even get it right -- "like childhood, the Fair was over." No! Sammy isn't epiphianic with the sudden realization that the fair is over, he is sad that his childhood is past.

    Yes, I counted the words. Insert punch line here. Or just punch me. But Chabon, clearly, did not count. Draft and revise. Draft and revise. My 8th grader is forced to draft and revise. Chabon never re-read this passage after he wrote it (and hundreds like it). If he had re-read it, he'd have asked himself, why am I instructing the reader how to interpret my metaphor? Either I tell them directly what I want them to take away from it ("Sammy was sad because he realized his childhood, like the fair, was over") or I let them draw their own conclusions ("Sammy was too young to have such inklings").

    Or maybe he did re-read it and found it wanting for nothing. This is his first draft, and his first draft was just perfect. How did the Pulitzer committee miss this? Were the characterizations and story lines and symbols so compelling? I find the characters two-dimensional at best, mostly one dimensional cardboard cutouts, the story lines banal, the metaphors pedestrian. Is the comic book simplicity its very charm? Perhaps, but I stopped reading comic books 45 years ago and turned to literature to get more out of my characters and plots and themes and metaphors.

    I realize I'm a minority of one, but Kavalier & Clay (I will not use the title words that precede the names, since they are neither amazing nor adventurous) is packed wall to wall with this type of writing, gratuitous and dull at best, infuriating and downright bad at worst.


    Would you be willing to try another book from Michael Chabon? Why or why not?

    I've had this book on my shelf for ten years, always intending to read it but never quite pulling the trigger (and I read dozens of book a year, so I've pulled a few hundred other titles off the shelf, and now into my Audible app, in the intervening years). When I had the chance to get it in audio, I was excited -- whatever was stopping me from reading the book (probably the number 636, the page count) was absent when I thought of listening to the audiobook while walking the dog and driving my car (even at 26 hours).

    But then, at 2 hours, I started to think of stopping. Then again at 4, 6, 10 hours. All that praise, that prize, I thought -- there must be more to this, I gotta stick it through! Even at 15 hours, well past the halfway point, I thought of stopping, convinced that there would never be the payoff I was hoping for and expecting. I slugged it out, thanks in part to one excellent section (Antarctica, though it really is a standalone short story and naggingly problematic within its larger context of World War II and the Holocaust).

    So that other Michael Chabon book that is sitting on my shelf -- nah, I'm not going to be reading or listening to that any time soon, or ever. Even if it is only two-thirds the length.


    What did you like about the performance? What did you dislike?

    Others have complained about the accents. Didn't bother me. The performance was good, in my opinion. Not the problem whatsoever. I wish it was read faster, but I guess I could've pressed the speed button if I wanted that.


    Do you think The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay needs a follow-up book? Why or why not?

    I think Kavalier & Clay needs an editor, not a follow-up. No, not an editor -- a chainsaw. Then again, why not? For the 85% of the world that loved this book, a follow-up would be welcome. Who am I to deny them that? I just won't be partaking myself.

    But what would that follow-up deal with? I am already dismayed at how trivial I found the "adventures" of K&C. Joe escapes Nazi Europe on the eve of the Holocaust and becomes a successful comic book artist (and wealthy) almost immediately upon his arrival in Brooklyn and almost as quickly finds true love. He suffers a single tragedy during the ensuing war years (not trivial, but relatively small compared to millions of other Holocaust and war experiences). He escapes the worst of the war despite a difficult experience in Antarctica that is written to be symbolic more than anything else. Yet he goes off the deep end as a result before coming back to his senses.

    So in a follow up, what? Tommy comes of age in the 60s, goes to Hollywood to be with his adoptive dad Sammy, who casts him in one huge hit after another, making him the most famous actor in the world. But he drowns in guilt about leaving his birth dad Joe behind after Joe is knocked into a coma during an anti-war rally in DC. But then Joe wakes up ten years later and claims his coma was his greatest escape trick ever, saving him the angst of living through the Silver Age of Comic Books and The Archies scoring a big top 40 hit with Sugar Sugar. That's good for 747 pages.


    Any additional comments?

    I found that the sections relating to the contents of K&C's comics were, head-scratchingly, relayed with little visual flair, especially curious since Kavalier, the more creative member of the duo (and the more interesting character) was the artist. I cannot fathom that whole Luna Moth thing -- Chabon keeps dropping moth references ("the moth light" ???) through this section, then totally abandons the conceit without ever completing the metaphor.

    Then there is the chapter where K&C argue at long length with their bosses for a better deal. No matter the outcome, that could have been a paragraph, maybe a page, but not a chapter. Yet it is rendered completely pointless when it is resolved by deus ex machina -- having been hemmed into a choice between money or artistic control, the sudden unforeseen emergence of a lawsuit allows them have their cake and eat it too. Even more curiously, the moral dilemma of having to commit a minor crime to realize that result is left completely unexplored. Indeed, Chabon often drones on through long passages in long chapters with unnecessary material only to end with an abrupt one-liner that is sometimes never explored in any depth, even though that becomes the very heart of the matter.

    Sammy, meanwhile, despite co-billing with Joe in the title and in life, is really the sidekick he always wanted to be. His biggest trial in life is handled artlessly, despite the back-to-back-to-back run-on sentences in the hundred-word range that are used to circle the issue without ever really getting serious about it. I'd like to back this up with examples, but that is almost impossible without major spoilers -- so suffice it to say that when Sammy harks back to scientist Nikola Tesla in one section or to Batman in a later section, he comes off as improbably clueless.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Music Man 08-06-12
    Music Man 08-06-12

    I am a New York musician, a New York native, and a passionate reader of fiction. Audible is helping me fill in some serious literary gaps.

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    "Masterful on every level"
    Would you consider the audio edition of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay to be better than the print version?

    I am new to audiobooks and am reveling in their power. I'd picked up "Kavalier and Clay" several years ago and gotten bogged down by the sheer size of the volume--a real doorstop of a novel. But I'd always wanted to read it, and am grateful for this superb audio version. In that sense: yes, the audiobook was better for me than the print book.


    What did you like best about this story?

    The historical sweep, the sense of what World War II meant to Americans and Europeans on a personal, experiential level, the complexity and reality of the characters, and (as always with Chabon) the delicacy, respect, and sensuality with which he treats gay characters. I'm not sure where this straight author's fascination with homosexuality comes from, but he is one of the greatest of our "gay" writers. He dramatizes the struggles of Jewish people and the struggles of gay people with an almost uncanny empathy.


    Which character – as performed by David Colacci – was your favorite?

    David Colacci nailed everyone, but his portrayal of Joe Kavalier took my breath away.


    Any additional comments?

    "K & C" has the sweep and depth of a classic nineteenth-century novel--a book of great intelligence, imagination, and depth.

    5 of 6 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Andrew New York, NY, United States 07-16-12
    Andrew New York, NY, United States 07-16-12 Member Since 2002
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    "I keed, I keed! It's a brilliant novel."

    Kavalier & Clay is possibly the best modern Bildungsroman I've ever encountered. The story and character development are gloriously nuanced, taking the two main characters from Prague to Brooklyn and then from Manhattan to Antarctica and back again, all the while describing personal evolutions that are neither neat nor linear. It is the sort of book that I plan to re-visit.

    When I do, I'll probably buy the print version. This has everything to do with David Colacci's reading. While he is great at pacing and expression, his voice for Joe Kavalier makes him sound exactly like Triumph, The Insult Comic Dog.

    It's an image I couldn't get out of my head while listening: All I could imagine is Joe as a rubber hand puppet. And frankly, that kind of distraction does a terrible disservice to Chabon's text.

    4 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    jim lara 02-12-15
    jim lara 02-12-15 Member Since 2014
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    "I don't understand all the excitement"

    This book was ok. The performance was great but it was still a boring story that goes off on tangents. I like some of Chabons other books, and I know this is supposedly his masterpiece, but I found it overwritten. This is not brilliant, it's an authors attempt at brilliance.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Robert Champaign, IL, United States 08-22-13
    Robert Champaign, IL, United States 08-22-13 Member Since 2013
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    "Why ruin a good story with sex?"
    Would you try another book from Michael Chabon and/or David Colacci?

    No, never if written by Michael Chabon.


    Has The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay turned you off from other books in this genre?

    No


    What does David Colacci bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?

    Well read


    What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

    Too much detail about the sex life of Kavalier (hetero) and Clay (homo) ruined for me what otherwise had the potential to be a great story.


    3 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Saoirse Palm Desert, CA, United States 07-29-13
    Saoirse Palm Desert, CA, United States 07-29-13
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    "Melodramatic and a little sadistic"
    What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

    Colacci could have used better voices. Some of the accents were thick and the reading was stiff, and I disliked the voices he used for the women and a gay character, Tracy Bacon. It didn't seem like what the character should sound like, and was a little insultingly faye.


    What was most disappointing about Michael Chabon’s story?

    A lot of things happen that are improbable and almost sadistic towards the characters. A long line of improbably awful things happen without much to counterbalance it, and it becomes a chore to read. Additionally, as a comics fan I just sat there and felt annoyed because the characters were being lauded for being the "first" people to do things with comics that Jack Kirby and Will Eisner did, and it felt like bad forties fanfiction.

    Additionally, this might have been meant to be a reflection of the writing of the time, but female characters were distressingly hard to come by. The only two prominent women are one character's mother and another's girlfriend, with unnecessary sexual details given about both. They barely existed outside of their attachments to the men in their lives, and never spoke to other women.


    Would you listen to another book narrated by David Colacci?

    Possibly. His narration is a bit dry, and I wasn't crazy about the way he did some of the voices, but I wouldn't forgo an audiobook just because he was narrating.


    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Mim HUGHENDEN, Australia 07-01-13
    Mim HUGHENDEN, Australia 07-01-13 Member Since 2009
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    "Said, said, said, said, said, said, said!"

    I am sure I would have liked this story, the premise sounded great, but after 23 minutes of every piece of dialogue ending with said I just couldn't stand it any more. If that doesn't worry you, give it a go.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Joe SEATTLE, WA, United States 03-15-13
    Joe SEATTLE, WA, United States 03-15-13 Member Since 2014
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    "I Want The ROsa To My Joe..."
    Any additional comments?

    This is a beautifully written, richly imagined story that ties in real world historical events into to the fictitious world that the characters live in. The relationships between Joe and Sam, between Joe and ROsa, and between Sam and Tracy are complex and dynamic thins that kept me hooked. I absolutely loved this book and was thrilled when I saw that Audible finally had an unabridged version of it.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Beth Anne Philadelphia, PA, United States 03-12-13
    Beth Anne Philadelphia, PA, United States 03-12-13 Member Since 2012

    i like to read. i like to listen.

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    "Long, Tough Read. Too Much Information."

    i had a tough time with this book. michael chabon has an interesting way of writing...complex and well researched and very detailed. but sometimes i think this is too much. sometimes his research is too much. i feel like there's just so much information on a certain subject that i need to read about when i'm in a novel. sometimes i just want the story....not the facts behind it. do you know what i mean?

    i loved the characters in this book. i think chabon creates the best, most interesting, likeable characters. they have faults, but they are so real...both Sam and Joe were perfectly written. exactly what and who i wanted them to be. but the book gets so muddled, and i feel like the characters never go anywhere...in their growth as people, in their beliefs, in their relationships. i needed more.

    i was talking to another reader, and she quipped that "maybe reading one book by Chabon is great, the next becomes a trial!" -- but i agree with her. i think when i read Telegraph Avenue, i was blown away by the newness of chabon's manner of writing...i was surprised and excited by the facts and histories of every single person and area and theme that he introduced into the story. but moving onto this novel...(i know i went backwards)...i got overloaded by it. too much info, chabon. maybe one is enough. i should have quit while he was ahead!

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Paul Krasner 09-27-12 Member Since 2015

    I like books that have interesting characters and easy to follow plots. For example, Cormoran Strike, is a great character for me.

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    "Very weak story"

    I was very disappointed in this book. It received such rave reviews. It started out very strongly with the first 1/4 but then it fizzled. The book should have been a novella. The beginnings of the comic book industry and how comic book stories are conceived was really interesting and exciting. But then the story began to sway from sub story to sub story with no apparent reason. Why was it important to spend so much time on Joe's time in Antarctica and why was there such an emphasis on the dog relationship. It seemed to me that Chabon had made up a story board like they do in comic books and tried to fit them all in to the book. Some parts of the book seemed like it was trying to be a True Romance comic. My overall feeling is that the author was trying to hard to write a really powerful book but just didn't have the story upon which to hang it. I couldn't wait for it to be over.

    3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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