Popular Posts

Friday, January 8, 2010

Gentlemen of the Road

I don't have too much to say about Michael Chabon's slim but passably entertaining adventure story, Gentlemen of the Road. While I was reading it, even when I was enjoying it, I kept wishing that Chabon would write something nearly as good as Kavalier and Klay again. This is a much smaller story, one which might have deserved its original, and more frivolous title, Jews With Swords.

Yep, you read that correctly. The setting is ancient Khazaria in the year 960A.D. The story concerns two travelers and con-artists, a mopey, hat-loving physician named Zelikman and an axe-wielding African giant named Amram, as they are roped into helping an ill-tempered rightful heir whose family has been murdered and whose position has been usurped. Along the way they encounter a number of whores, hangers-on, deadly mercenaries, and elephants.

The style is meant to be reminiscent, and subtly (perhaps too subtly) parodic, of the adventure stories of the late 18th and 19th centuries. (Think Samuel Johnson's Rasselas and Jules Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days) There are a number of little details Chabon gets right about these kinds of books, from the lengthy and absurd chapter titles, to the obscurity of vocabulary and the convoluted dialogue, but overall the effect is unmemorable. Chabon's characters, even the main protagonists, don't jump off the page.

There is something slightly off with the plotting of the novel also. Chabon's set pieces seem too straightforward and unexciting. This is strange coming from the guy who set a huge chunk of Kavalier and Klay in an abandoned military station in Antarctica and built a whole novel out of chess-obsessed Alaskan Jews.

To get to the point, this is an inessential read, even in the author's own body of work. While it obviously took a lot of effort to research and talent to compose, the question I found myself asking most was Why?

Giving him some points for the strength (and mercifully, the brevity) of his prose, I'll give this a 5.1 out of 10.

Next? I picked up a copy of Jonathan Lethem's Fortress of Solitude, which I've been meaning to read for some time. If the book club gets back up and running though, that may interfere.

No comments:

Post a Comment