Kavalier and Clay
Title: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
Author: Michael Chabon
Publication Date: 2000 (Read via Trade Paperback published in 2012)
Genre: Literary Fiction
Overview: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay focuses on two cousins: Sam Clayman, a young man from Brooklyn, and Joe Kavalier, a refugee from Czechoslovakia. After arriving in Brooklyn and escaping the confinements of the Ghetto during the German occupation of Prague, Joe is left adrift. His only companion is his cousin Sam. Feeling helpless to do anything against the Nazis, the two fight the only way they can–by telling stories and drawing. They create a nationally acclaimed comic book series.
For Fans Of: Helene Wrecker, Michael Chabon, Eli Wesel, Hannah Arendt
World-Building: Chabon shows a side of the 1940s that we rarely see in fiction. He examines those who want to fight but cannot. The society he builds upon is fairly carefree, the artists’ world. He writes very introspectively.
Chabon does a great job of infusing the history of comicbooks and pulp fiction into his story without seeming overwhelming or pedantic.
Character Development: Sam Clay and Joe Kavalier both struggle throughout the book. Joe remains largely stunted by his inability to assist his family despite having come into enormous wealth. Sam continues to live quietly out of rejection for what he fears to be a life that would see him persecuted by those around him. Neither seems to find any solace in this path.
Joe’s tensions build until he can’t stand it and he runs away to war. It’s not surprising that he comes back different. He doesn’t want to acknowledge his inability to affect change on a grand scale. This leads to some questionable decision making on his part. Sam, who stays behind (He had polio as a child and wouldn’t have been accepted even if he had gone to enlist), suffocates his desires and accepts the responsibilities that Joe left behind.
The two characters grow together. It’s a little strange, then, to see how little they are drawn to one another by the end. I liked how Chabon handled their responses to their situations and, for the most part, the contrast in their personalities. I was less than thrilled to see how little they thought about one another or considered one another in their choices by the end.
Plot: Both characters were spurred by death and unfulfilled desires. The misery that surrounds them stems largely from their lack of acceptance of their motivation, but also occurs largely because Chabon wants it that way. The story contained large sections of emotional and motivational examination, but was often followed by enough plot to keep it moving. It did read slowly at times.
Many plot points, especially later ones concerning Joe, seemed to be largely there to burden the character rather than keep the story moving. At times this meant that they were written in without much foreshadowing or pretense.
I’m not sure how I feel about the ending. In many ways it seems very fitting. Chabon leaves ends loose. This isn’t because they couldn’t have been tied, but because their lives and stories aren’t really over with the end of the book. On the other hand, I was surprised not to have more of a backlash for some of their earlier decisions.