Adventures in Reading

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.


Revisited: The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin

I will admit that I had no idea there was a book birthing The Stepford Wives until I stumbled across a used copy for a bit of pocket change. I fell in love with the 1975 film version and left the theater with a bad taste in my mouth after the 2004 remake (an abomination!). The original book version lands some place in between.

Written during the height of the second wave of feminism, Levin has an independent and “liberated” Joanne move to suburban Stepford to escape the hustle, bustle, and crime of the city. The women all appear as actors from detergent ads and when her friend Bobbi turns into one of them – Joanne gets suspicious. It’s a bit of a pseudo-feminist portrayal with name dropping of Millet, Friedan, and Steinem, but without a lot of feminist discourse, antics, thought – anything – to back it up.

It’s a very short read, only a bit over a hundred pages and if you get the opportunity it’s a decent page-turner. But if you find yourself with an afternoon to kill I more highly suggest renting the 1975 classic and getting yourself a bowl of popcorn.

Definitely agree with myself on this one.

Other opinions: books i done read.

Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase by Carolyn Keene
“In the brief second of warning, the truck almost seemed to leap toward the water. Nancy and her father, hemmed in by the concrete piers had no way to escape being run down. … Without hesitation, he and Nancy made running flat dives into the water, and with arms flailing and legs kicking, swam furiously out of harm’s way” (18). From Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase by Carolyn Keene.

The second installment of the Nancy Drew series The Hidden Staircase makes The Secret of the Old Clock look like a walk through the park. Nancy is recruited to solve a mystery of a “haunted” house while her father simultaneously receives threats from a man trying to leach money from the railroad company.

I have to admit that book two was fairly disappointing. While The Secret of the Old Clock may not have had the most unpredictable plot line, The Hidden Staircase is soon solved within the first few chapters. The reader then spends the remaining chapters dully flipping through pages as Nancy and her friend Helen run up and down stairs and tap on walls trying to find a secret room.

During this process Nancy’s father is kidnapped and rather than contact the FBI the local police rely on Nancy to help with the case. It’s a fun story but a stretch at nearly 200 pages. Some of the perks of The Hidden Staircase is further character development with Nancy through exploring more of her non-sleuth life than The Secret of the Old Clock dips into and her relationships with other people. Nancy kicks off the book with a date and the reader becomes acquainted with her friend Helen.

The Hidden Staircase has less “objectionable” material than the previous novel in the series but still develops a sense of good values. A fun read, but my fingers are crossed that the Nancy Drew series doesn’t continue in this downward process.

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