Michael Chabon Essay - Michael Chabon Long Fiction Analysis

Michael Chabon Long Fiction Analysis

As might be expected of a novelist who first gained acclaim at the age of twenty-five and who has not escaped the limelight since, Michael Chabon has produced work that displays significant evolution over the succeeding two decades. While all his novels have shown Chabon’s gift for fluid, lyrical prose, the tones of the works have stretched from wistful (The Mysteries of Pittsburgh) to wryly comic (Wonder Boys) to cynical and laconic (The Yiddish Policemen’s Union). Structurally, Chabon’s methods have also changed. Where his first two novels are tightly focused first-person narratives about small numbers of people over a brief time, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay takes place over several years and includes an expansive cast; The Yiddish Policemen’s Union evokes an alternative version of the world in which Sitka, Alaska, has been the Jewish homeland since World War II; and Gentleman of the Road is a short, quickly paced novel of historical adventure.

As Chabon’s plots and style have evolved, so too have his interests and subject matter. The Mysteries of Pittsburgh is a book by a young man, not too long out of college, about a young man just out of college. The distance between the writer and the creation is greater in Wonder Boys, but at some level Grady Tripp’s struggle to complete a new novel is surely based on Chabon’s similar experience. With The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, however, Chabon broke into new territory: The novel is set in the years before and after World War II and deals with such broad themes as art, creativity, Jewish identity, romantic happiness, and the closeted lives of gays at a time when such lives were subject to scrutiny and persecution.

Chabon’s novels have often portrayed gay characters and aspects of gay lifestyle. After the success of The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, which is partly about a bisexual man making a choice between a relationship with a man and a relationship with a woman, Chabon became identified as an author who writes about and is sympathetic to gay characters. Similarly, although Chabon’s Jewish heritage seems to have had relatively little influence on his first two novels, Jewish culture and identity are primary issues in The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union, and Gentlemen of the Road.

Chabon has also become increasingly interested in fiction genres such as detective, horror, and science fiction. In addition to editing genre collections for McSweeney’s and writing a new “final chapter” to the life of Sherlock Holmes, Chabon has incorporated both science fiction and the detective story in the long consideration of Jewish identity and Zionism that is The Yiddish Policemen’s Union. Similarly, although ostensibly a historical adventure novel, Gentlemen of the Road is in many ways patterned on the fantasy works of such writers as Fritz Leiber and Michael Moorcock; the primary characters are again Jewish, and the setting is an ancient Turkish city-state of Jews.

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh is primarily a coming-of-age novel. Art Bechstein is poised on the precipice of several new worlds: He is not only trying to unravel his future as a new college graduate but also coming to terms with his own troubling (to him, at first) bisexuality as well as the realization that his father is a shadowy underworld figure. Even as Art is seduced by both Arthur Lecomte and Phlox Lombardi, he is pulled between their world and his own. Both names are symbolic in their way; Arthur has more or less the same name as Art, and at some level he represents an outward manifestation of Art’s previously unacknowledged bisexuality. A phlox is a kind of flower, and in truth Art’s world is in flower, blooming and changing; at the same time, phlox serves as a homonym for “flux,” a perfect description of Art’s emotional state.

Arthur and Phlox introduce Art to Cleveland, a charming and literate aspiring young criminal who wishes to use Art to gain an introduction to Art’s father. As Phlox and Arthur represent different aspects of Art’s life, Cleveland represents the allure of rebellion and the thrill of unplanned and unchecked danger. By the end of the novel, the triangle of friendships that has stretched Art in different directions has fallen apart under tragedy,...

(The entire section is 1844 words.)