26 June 2009

Book Review: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

I finally finished my first of 20 books! It has been quite the endeavor. But, ultimately, I have mixed feelings about persisting with The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.

For the first 250 pages of this book, I wanted to put it down and never read it again. It took me nearly two months to finish the first third of the book. I continued reading only out of persistence: People rave about this book.

As the title indicates, the book is about the adventures of the two main characters: Joe (Joseph) Kavalier and Sammy Clay (Klayman). The first half of the book is set in pre-World War II New York City, where Joe has immigrated from Czechoslovakia. He locates his father's sister (Sammy Clay's mother) in Brooklyn. He and Sammy forge a quick bond. Joe is an artist and Sammy a writer. They conspire to make their fortunes writing comic books, most beginning with the title The Amazing Adventures of ...

Both men are Jewish and are painfully aware of what is happening in Europe. Joe's family still lives in the ghettos. They base their early comic book stories on defeating the Third Reich. Both men fall in love; Joe with a woman named Rosa and Sammy with a man named Tracy Bacon.

The first half of the story moves so slowly because the Michael Chabon uses it to set up the situation in which he shifts the story dramatically. Joe works day and night to make enough money to secure a passage out of Europe for his younger brother, Thomas. He manages to get him on a submarine that sinks to the bottom of the sea. Joe is heartbroken and leaves everything - his career, his girl - to join the Navy in hopes of killing some Germans.

Instead of fighting on the frontlines in Europe, Joe finds himself stationed in Antarctica. After an unfortunate incident with carbon monoxide and other accidents, he is stuck alone in perpetual darkness, going mad and waiting for relief to come in the spring. Meanwhile, Sammy gives up his alternative lifestyle and marries Joe's girl, Rosa. Rosa was pregnant with Joe's baby when he decided to high tail it out of the city. The book started to get interesting at this point. The final 100 pages, however, were a chore to read.

Joe returns to New York City, but tells no one. He finds his son and establishes a relationship with him. Eventually, he returns to the only family he knows: Rosa and Sammy. Rosa and Joe still have feelings for each other and act on them. Sammy confesses that he's gay. And the end concludes with everyone living happily ever after.

The 350-plus page build-up to all of this was rather disappointing. The book was so dark in the beginning, what with the looming invasion of Pearl Harbor, the mass murder of Jews in Europe. And then Joe goes off the deep end, only to return a dozen years later to reclaim his life. I look for one thing in a book, is it believable? Even if the whole idea behind the book isn't believable, I want the author to convince me (The Time Traveler's Wife is a good example). All in all, I'm just happy to be finished with every page of this book - all 636 of them - so I can move on!

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