(High Fidelity x Love is a Mix Tape) + Jackie Brown divided by the square root of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao without the helpful but distracting footnotes. Then again, clocking in at 465 pages, footnotes would render the book unliftable.
Chabon sort of plunges you headlong into the cast of characters with wanton disregard as to whether or not you can discern their races, ages, or even genders. Add to that a few flashbacks and alternate reality bits and you are left reeling and wondering when these events take place if they happened at all. You MUST linger and you MUST mull over and you CANNOT skim else you’ll be lost. There are unexplained references in the fields of pop culture (Tarantinoesque), race (CP time!), history (Black Panthers), you name it. If you get it, you get to enjoy an inside-joke, part-of-the-club smirk or nod. If not, good thing his writing is, as always, impeccable and brilliant and clever. It’s worth the effort.
Gwen Shanks was headed north on Telegraph Avenue, on her way to work a home birth in the Berkeley Hills, when found herself blown off course by an unbearable craving into the cumin-scented gloom of the Queen of Sheba. Steeled by a lifetime of training in the arts of repression, like Spock battling the septenary mating madness of the pon farr, Gwen had resisted the urges and surges of estrogen and progesterone for each of the first thirty-four weeks of her pregnancy, denying all cravings, battened down tight against hormonal gusts. In her patients, Gwen uniformly and with tenderness indulged the rages, transports, and panics, the crying jags and cupcake benders, but she was not in the habit of indulging herself. Though she was a midwife by profession, her life’s work was self-control. Two weeks earlier, however, without explanation, her husband had dropped by the offices of Berkeley Birth Partners bearing, satanically, a fateful Styrofoam cup filled with something called suff. Since that day Gwen had been plagued by an almost daily hankering for this chilled infusion of sesame seeds, its flavor bittersweet as regret.
Honorable Mention Blurbs:
Appealing to my hyphen-loving soul, the Hammond B-3 organ is “diesel-heavy, coffin-awkward, clock-fragile.”
Eerily accurate in describing my own kitchen drawers: “Like a dog in a cartoon, forepaws a turbine blur as he hunted up a buried bone in a churn of dirt, Nat excavated the cabinets and ransacked the drawers looking for usable serving containers and suitable platters. Piling up behind him mountains of mateless lids and lidless bottoms, rattling cake pans and pie plates. Souvenirs of ancient Tupperware parties, ice cube trays, Thermos cups with no Thermoses. Popsicle molds with no sticks, roasting racks, bamboo skewers, a kitchen scale!”
If only to rile Yaz up on the slim chance she still reads this blog: “She had never liked the Bay Area, with its irresolute and timid weather, the tendency of its skies in any season to bleed gray, the way it had arranged its hills and vistas like a diva setting up chairs around her to ensure the admiration of visitors. The people around here were fetishists and cultists, prone to schism and mania, liable to invest all their hope of heaven in the taste of an egg laid in the backyard by a heritage-breed chicken.”
In honor of Minnie, mentioned more than a few times in the book, here’s today’s music jam: