Telegraph Avenue: A Novel
by Michael Chabon
Pay attention when reading this novel, because you can’t afford to miss a beat. Award winning author Michael Chabon sets a scene of contemporary Oakland, California and populates it with colorful characters. Center stage are Nat Jaffe and Archy Stallings – friends, sometime band mates, and business partners/co-owners of Brokeland Records, a small, independently owned purveyor of “used vinyl,” also known as record albums.” Brokeland is also the social hub of the ‘hood – a place where people go to hang out and shoot the breeze, a place where everybody knows your name. Things are not looking promising for Brokeland’s future, however; a gigantic commercial enterprise is slated to move into the neighborhood that will almost certainly put Archy and Nat out of business.
While Nat and Archy struggle to reconcile both the future of Brokeland and the future of their friendship, their wives, Aviva and Gwen are also at a crossroads, both personally and professionally. Well respected midwives in Oakland (and best friends and business partners), they attend a home birth that ends in an emergency transfer to the hospital. From there, suddenly both their livelihoods and their friendship are on the line. Meanwhile, Gwen is also expecting her first baby with Archy, while also being confronted by Archy’s infidelity and seeming inability to act the part of a responsible grown up and soon-to-be father.
Meanwhile, Nat and Aviva’s teenage son has fallen in love – with a newcomer to town who happens to be Archy’s unacknowledged son from a long-ago relationship. Naturally this twist complicates everyone’s lives even more than they already are.
The story has many supporting characters who add flavor and color: Archy’s deadbeat, aging, drug-addicted father who was a star of the Blaxpoitation film age of the ’70s; Chan Flowers who is a respected city councilman and the town’s undertaker and who has a dark secret from his past; Gibson “G. Bad” Goode, the fifth richest black man in the country, ex-NFL player, and owner of Dogpile, the enterprise that threatens to put Archy and Nat out of business; and Cochise Jones, an aging musician with a parrot sidekick, who is a father figure to Archy.
I had never read anything by Chabon before so wasn’t sure what to expect. He’s a brilliant writer who leans heavily on metaphors and details, which I found made it a little challenging to keep up. In some ways, I felt like his writing was above me.
I was especially excited to read this when I realized that two midwives featured in the story, being a home birther myself; however the midwifery featured in this story differs somewhat from my own dealings with it.
It’s a good story, if you like Chabon’s unique style of writing and the specific subject matter: Oakland, California; race; vintage music; multiracial relationships; and midwifery.
This review is brought to you by TLC Book Tours.