Adventures in Reading

A quote from Michael Chabon
June 14, 2008, 10:03 am
Filed under: thoughtful | Tags: , , , , , ,

In the P.S. edition of Michael Chabon’s The Final Solution, A Story of Detection is a short interview with Chabon. What is generally suggested is that as a Pulitzer Prize winner what can or should a reader infer of Chabon writing just a detective novella. From this interview, I pulled a great quote from Chabon:

“I’m really annoyed by pigeonholes and categories and labels. I view them as iniquitous to the spirit of play and of experimentation and of storytelling. The fact at a bookstore, the fiction is divided into fiction and mystery and science fiction, I don’t understand why it has to be that way. To me it’s all fiction, and I think the best science fiction, the best mystery fiction, the best horror fiction ought to be put on par with the best quote-unquote ‘literary fiction.’”

I do find this fascinating and speaking from my experience as a reader and my experience as a bookseller, it can be pretty damn difficult to talk someone into switching genre. Hell, it’s difficult enough to talk myself into switching genre. Though I usually read quite heavily from the fiction and literature section I seldom find myself in science fiction, fantasy, or horror and I cannot recall ever reading a mystery or thriller book. (Though the book Fail Safe is a military thriller it is listed as literature.)

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Michael Chabon’s Final Solution

“A boy with a parrot on his shoulder was walking along the railway tracks.”

Michael Chabon has always been one of those authors and I think: “I’m going to love him. He will be one of my favorites. Now I just need to get around to actually reading him.” I’ve always categorized him, without reading him, with the likes of Eggers, Foer, and July. All youngish, newish, hipish authors and ones I’ve always looked forward to reading. For my clearing shelf project I finally got around to picking up Chabon and pleasantly made my way through his novella Final Solution.

Escaping the Nazis, Linus and his parrot come to England to stay out the war. But the string of numbers the parrot chatters in German becomes too tempting for some and a man is killed and the parrot goes missing. Belonging to an era reminiscent of Sherlock Holmes, an elderly, retired, bee-keeping detective becomes involved in the case of the missing parrot without being particularly concerned over the murder.

The Final Solution was my first piece in a long time where I had to write down the character’s names to keep them straight. A habit I started out of necessity and carried through much of college as a beneficial study method. While the names themselves were not particularly difficult, I did at times find Chabon’s writing style cumbersome and confusing. I recall an NPR interview with him and Chabon’s vocabulary is immense (perhaps he read Plotnik’s Spunk and Bite too?). For a 131-page story I found myself turning to my electronic dictionary with regularity, but perhaps so much that I found it difficult to be dazzled by Final Solution.

It is a fun “who done it” story, which does not necessarily provide all of the answers the reader might like by the end. Which I prefer. As things are not laid out clearly, I confess the temptation is strong to reread the book. But as I’m currently still slugging my way through Nelson Algren’s Never Come Morning and Isabel Allende’s Daughter of Fortune there must be a rain check for now on Chabon.

For another take on Final Solution as well as Chabon’s Yiddish Policemen’s Union, visit Steve over at Jewish Literary Review.