Thursday, April 24, 2008


A rather wistful tone pervades Michael Chabon's Pulitzer winner The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. Two cousins, Joe Kavalier and Sammy Clay, team up to create a comic book superhero, The Escapist, against the backdrop of World War II. Joe has made a harrowing escape from Czechoslovakia, leaving behind his Jewish family, including his young brother Thomas. Joe is crushed by survivor's guilt and endeavors endlessly to gain passage for his family to the U.S. Woven into the tale is Joe's prior training as an illusionist and as a Houdini-like escape artist. The writing is superb and full of nifty metaphors. For example, Joe's girlfriend Rosa envisions his weight gain as the arrival of his body piece by piece in this country. The book also has some light moments. The scene where Tracy Bacon, who voices The Escapist on radio, meets Sammy's mom is totally hilarious, with Sammy offering snide remarks as Tracy tries to help out in the kitchen. Symbols abound--the golden key, moths, golems (life-size clay figures that can be brought to life)—as the comic book writers create characters who reflect their own aspirations and experiences. Sammy acknowledges his homosexuality by giving each character a sidekick; Rosa writes of love lost and regained; Joe is the perennial escapist. The book's biggest drawback, however, is its length. It's almost like two books in one. About two thirds of the way through, the unthinkable happens, and the real adventures begin.

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