One of the constants in Michael Chabon’s novels, aside from excellence, is his obsession with pop culture. This has never been so much in evidence as in his new novel, Telegraph Avenue. You are never more than a couple sentences removed from another pop culture reference. However as the pop quotient has been ratcheted up in this new novel, the overall success of the story is a little down. That being said Telegraph Avenue is still worth reading but maybe you’re left not quite as satisfied as you have been with his previous novels?
Telegraph Avenue and the surrounding area is home to a varied lot including the business that is at the heart of novel and the soul of the community, Brokeland Records. The store is a poor but honest, sad but true, mod kid kind of place, a second hand record store. As for the citizens think modern Frank Capra; the novel has the same positives and the same cynicism as in one of his movies. Eccentricities rule, most people are basically good hearted (especially if they live paycheck to paycheck) and The Man could stick it to you at any time. As is usual in this Chabon novel the characters are treated with affection and are very well developed but you have seen them before. That isn’t usually the case with Chabon.
What I enjoyed the most about Telegraph Avenue was the sprawl. Watching Chabon manipulate the ever widening, deepening and intertwining storylines that build right from the beginning in this novel is pure pleasure. For me this is Chabons’ greatest strength and biggest appeal. He has the talent and the smarts to build a world with its own defined history and relationships.